Tag Archives: tranquility

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?

Ki Tisa: Pursuing Tranquility

Inner lightThe Torah portion of Sisa contains an entire section (Shmos 31:13-18.) relating to Shabbos. It begins by stating that Shabbos is “a sign between Me and you for all generations, so that you know that I, G-d, am making you holy.” The section concludes: “And the children of Israel shall observe the Shabbos … as an everlasting covenant … for in six days G-d made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased working and rested.”

Why is Shabbos and its laws discussed here at such length, when it was already covered in detail (.Ibid., 20:8-11.) as part of the Ten Commandments?

Our Sages derive (Taanis 27b; Beitza 16a.) from the words “He ceased working and rested,” that “An additional [measure of] soul is granted [the Jew] on the arrival of Shabbos.

What exactly is meant by the statement that “an additional [measure of] soul is granted [the Jew] on the arrival of Shabbos”? According to the Zohar, this literally refers to an additional measure of spirituality that is granted from above as a gift on Shabbos.

“Shabbos and the Additional Soul”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tisa
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I sometimes have difficulty with the rather esoteric teachings of the Chasidic sages, and certainly imagining that an “extra soul” comes upon a Jewish person with the arrival of the Shabbat is a bit of a stretch for me. On the other hand, part of what is being communicated is that, for the Jew, Shabbat brings a special kind of peace and tranquility that cannot be found on the other days of the week. This could be more than simply choosing to refrain from normal work and focusing more on God, and contain a supernatural or even mystical component. After all, where God is involved, anything is possible.

Starting with my “morning meditation” Learning Acceptance, I have been attempting to “pursue peace” in a different manner or fashion than I have previously, making adjustments to my behavior and even my thoughts as I attempt to approach this goal. The arcane imagery of receiving an “additional Shabbat soul” is rather appealing, but the Chasidic teachings on Ki Tisa remind me of the demarcation line that is set between the Jew and the Gentile. According to the Chasidim, this “additional soul” of peace arrives on the Shabbat for the Jew and not for the Gentile, because only the Jew is set apart as holy (Exodus 31:13).

I suppose I could complain about this not being fair, but then I’m sure someone would remind me that life, and even God (although He is always just) are not always fair. But then, the Rebbe and the Chabad Rabbis are hardly taking the teachings of Jesus into consideration. Could there be a kind of peace we Christians can access as well?

Sometimes Christians don’t realize that Jesus, when he walked among men, observed the mitzvot of first century Judaism in the same manner as the other Jews in Israel, as did their fathers and their father’s fathers. The Shabbat was no stranger to Jesus, in spite of the fact that most Christians and Jews believe that Jesus actually taught breaking the Shabbat (which is untrue). His Jewish disciples would also have observed the Shabbat with their Master, and continued to do so in the manner of the Jews after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and James, brother of the Master and leader of the Messianic council in Jerusalem, were also devout, Shabbat keeping Jews.

Although the exact form of the teaching from which I quoted above may not have been known to them, certainly the peace of the Shabbat would be all too familiar to the Jewish followers of the Way. In what manner, if any, would this special type of peace have been transmitted to the non-Jewish disciples, both in Roman occupied Judea and in the Greek diaspora?

There’s no way to know for sure, but it is likely that the Gentile disciples would have worshiped on Shabbat, if for no other reason, than because their Jewish mentors did so. It’s in the realm of the historians and the New Testament scholars as to whether or not the Gentile disciples attempted a form of Shabbat rest along with their Jewish counterparts, but usually, when someone is trying to learn a new type of worship, they do so by imitating an original model. This may be the reason the rather mysterious words of Acts 15:21 were recorded:

For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

The Gentiles were assumed to learn the intricate details of the God of the Hebrews from hearing the readings of the Torah and the Prophets during Shabbat services, but that would presuppose that even a few Gentiles were in the synagogue for worship on Shabbat. Leaping forward twenty centuries, I know from my own experience, the beauty of witnessing the lighting of the Shabbos candles, and the sublime grace of welcoming the Queen into my home. I must admit that my family doesn’t keep the Shabbat as we’d like, but it remains an ideal and a goal toward which we strive.

Tranquility is also an ideal and a goal toward which I strive, even in a troubled world and in struggling with a troubled soul. I guess that’s what makes the idea of receiving an “additional soul” so appealing. But is receiving this “Shabbat soul” something the original non-Jewish disciples would have understood let alone attempted?

I don’t know. Maybe not.

I only know as an outsider looking in, the glow and warmth of Shabbat peace is attractive to me as well.

There are two aspects of Shabbat observance: outwardly, it is a day of rest, but inwardly, it is a time of soul-union with our Maker; in the same way the additional soul has an inner and outer purpose. This outer purpose is, as Rashi explains, an expanded heart, or in other words a sharpening of our sense perceptions comparable to the effect of mind-altering drugs which heighten the ability to see colors, taste food, appreciate sound, and the like. This outer purpose helps us fulfill the commandment of delighting in Shabbat.

From Rafael Moshe Luria; translated by Simcha H. Benyosef
“The Additional Shabbat Soul”
Kabbalah Online
Chabad.org

When Rabbi Eli Touger discusses the dynamics of the sin of the Golden Calf in his Ki Tisa commentary, he says:

Similarly, all the punishments suffered by the Jewish people throughout the centuries are connected to this sin (Sanhedrin 102b; Rashi, Exodus 32:35.). What place can such an event have in a portion whose name points to the Jews’ ascent?

To answer this question, we must expand our conceptual framework, for the state to which G-d desires to bring mankind is above ordinary human conception. This is indicated by the very expression: “When you lift up the heads”; “the heads,” human intellect, must be elevated.

Rabbi Touger shifts his focus from “the Jews’ ascent” to “G-d desires to bring mankind is above ordinary human conception.” That is, the focus shifts from Jews to everyone. Of course, it could just be assumed, given his context, that everything he presents is directed to Jews and that the nations are not to be considered, but how can we reconcile this with the concept that the Jews were to be a light to the nations, and that God so loved even the nations (John 3:16), who were also created in His own image (Genesis 1:27)?

Whatever the understanding of the Chasidim may be in relation to Gentiles, God, and peace, the emissary to the Gentiles had this to say:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

While this doesn’t address a Shabbat peace, it is an encouragement from our ancient Jewish mentor for the Gentile disciples to also seek peace through “prayer and supplication” and that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your (our) hearts and your (our) minds in Christ Jesus.” Tranquility for the non-Jewish disciple then, is not considered unattainable nor forbidden.

But what about this “extra soul?”

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” –Acts 10:34, 44-47 (ESV)

I know. I’m stretching the metaphor completely out of shape, but when we among the nations accept the Spirit of God as disciples of the Jewish Messiah, do we not also inherit the ability to seek the peace Paul describes in Philippians? I mentioned previously that peace was as much a matter of practice as it is a thing of the spirit, but I think the two need to go together.

This brings up a curious discussion I had in a series of private messages on a Christian forum not too long ago. A person suggested that not all Christians possess the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” His evidence (or at least part of it) was that not all (and maybe not most) Christians experience speaking in tongues and the (temporary) gift of prophesy, as we see described in Acts 2 and Acts 10, when they declare Christ as Lord and Savior (that is, convert to Christianity). We also see (Matthew 7:23, Luke 13:27) that not everyone who believes they belong to Christ really have that relationship, and will be rejected by Jesus when he returns. Is it possible for me to “believe” and yet not “belong?” After all, there is a precedence illustrating that people can “confess Christ” and yet experience a delay between that confession and the actual receiving of the spirit. What if a person declares Jesus as Lord but never receives the Holy Spirit? Would there be no peace? Would there be no salvation? Is that person’s faith in vain?

On the other hand, the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized in water and rejoiced without any outward evidence of receiving the Spirit.

And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. –Acts 8:34-39 (ESV)

Or am I making this harder than it really is?

In spite of Jewish exclusivity in relation to the Shabbat in general and a special peace with God in specific, perhaps pursuing tranquility is as simple as setting the rules and commentaries aside and simply opening up the heart and accepting God. Faith is knowing God exists. Trust is knowing that when you open the door and invite Him in, He enters. His Word is a “lamp unto my feet” (Psalm 119:105) not only on Shabbat, but always. Or it’s supposed to be.

True happiness is the highest form of self-sacrifice.
There, in that state, there is no sense of self
—not even awareness that you are happy.

True happiness is somewhere beyond “knowing.”
Beyond self.

All the more so when you bring joy to others.

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

Good Shabbos.