Posts Tagged ‘Torah’

Two Opposites and a Harmonious Resolution

June 27, 2009

Kabbalah teaches that the universe is built on a tripod, consisting of two opposites and a harmonious resolution. This is the pattern for everything in life. Stability and confidence is impossible without the support of all three legs of the tripod. We cannot have “shalom” without all three. This tripod – and its attendant challenge of conflict resolution – is inherent inside each one of us, in all of nature, of mankind as a whole, and in the spiritual realm as well.  –Korach (Numbers 16-18) Conflict Resolution

For the scholars of scripture they have an advantage over the rest of us. They have the time to think through some issues, take a step back, and perceive patterns that are opaque to us while we are in the trenches of the war of life. This week’s Torah portion is such an insight and when you think about it we can gain perspective on our lives, our community our country and the world.

I am struck by the conclusions to be reached by this statement. You see, if we are talking about a tripod, then if you take away any one of the legs it will fall. You might, as I did at first, focus on the harmonious resolution leg as the “most important.” Take it away and the tripod falls. For true harmony to evolve there must be recognition of discordant views. No two people (or for that matter two countries) can have identical views. Our thoughts, brain process, perceptions and conclusions are like fingerprints — they define us as unique individuals. So even if you say “I agree” you might find out sooner or later that you agreed with something the other person did not say or mean.

What this means to me is that for me to strive to live in a harmonious world I need to seek out both people who see things in similar ways to me AND people who don’t. I must engage BOTH the people who seem to agree with my world perspective AND those who don’t. Standing in the shoes of both “camps” is the only way I can perceive where there is commonality, conflict or room to compromise. With the recognition that life is a process and not a series of events comes the foundation of the process of harmony. Harmonious relations do not represent a static place of equilibrium, but rather a dynamic place of interaction, catalytic relationships and evolving development of ourselves, our society and our world.

Harmony and the whole tripod fails when we deny the existence of other points of view. If we deny the validity of other points of view we deny their existence and we deny the speaker the right to hold such views and express them. We take away one leg of the stool and the tripod fails — because there is nothing left to process toward a harmonious resolution.


Spiritual Fence: Value and Meaning in Our Lives

June 7, 2008


The Spiritual Fence 

Torah Portion: Naso

by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt



In this week’s portion, we learn about a person who takes a Nazirite vow, committing to abstain from wine. The Torah does not recommend this. Abstaining from any pleasure in this world is a denial of God’s goodness. Nonetheless, one who makes such a vow is bound by it.

By taking such a vow, the Torah says that not only may he not drink wine, but he also may not eat grapes, raisins and even grape seeds and skins! Why?

This is not about adding unnecessary hardships. Rather, the Torah is creating a fence to protect the Nazirite from falling foul of his own vow. Wine is a strong temptation. If he is forbidden even to eat grape skins, he will never come close to drinking wine.

We learn from this the importance of making fences to protect our spiritual well-being. The Sages have made many fences for us, but suggest that we also make our own, too.

When it comes to the material world, we are great at making fences, carefully guarding our physical possessions. To protect our money, there is no better protected building than a bank. We also make fences for things that may harm us: Bottles of poison are clearly marked, have difficult-to-open caps and are locked well away. If you’ve ever been to the Golan Heights, you will have seen acres of very well fenced-off minefields. We wouldn’t want someone wandering in.

Unfortunately, we are not always as careful in guarding our spiritual possessions. Do we make fences to ensure that we are not slipping spiritually, never mind actually growing? Do we make fences to ensure we spend enough time with our families; to ensure we are not falling in to the trap of “living to work” as opposed to “working to live”? Do we make fences to help us live on the moral level that we would like to?

Try spending the first half hour, after you return from work, with your family. That’s a good fence. If not, you will find yourself in bed wondering where the time went that you really were intending to spend. Or take half an hour a month to remember what exactly you are living for – to check that you haven’t gone off track.

There are so many good fences, if only we would bother to make them.

We all have tremendous spiritual wealth that can slowly slip away if not fenced in. There are also many spiritual poisons. If we don’t lock them away in well-marked bottles, we may inadvertently partake of them. Making a fence is the best way to protect what we have. If we refrain from making them, it is at our peril.

Author Biography:
Shaul grew up in Liverpool. He studied for his smicha at Aish Hatorah in Jerusalem where he met his first wife Elana a”h who passed away in 2001 after a long struggle with cancer. They had four children together and Shaul has a further two with his second wife Chana, who he married in 2003. Shaul has written a book, ‘Finding Light in the Darkness’, published by Targum Press, dealing with the issue of facing hardship in a positive way. Shaul founded Aish UK in 1993 and Tikun UK in 2006 along with Dean Kaye. He enjoys most things in life.


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Lighting the Way

February 9, 2008

25. The Lord repaid me in accordance with my righteousness, according to the cleanliness of my hands before His eyes. 26. With the kindhearted You act kindly, with the upright man You act uprightly. 27. With the pure You act purely, but with the crooked You act cunningly. 28. For the destitute nation You save, but haughty eyes You humble. 29. Indeed, You light my lamp; the Lord, my God, illuminates my darkness.

Trite expressions usually have some truth in them. One is what goes around comes around (or vica versa). The simple conclusion that I have come to is that the more my actions are duided and directed by righteous (my knowlegde of right and wrong) intent, the better I live, regardless of the outcome.

Practice forgiveness, and stress is reduced. Hold a grudge, plan your revenge, and you waste your time, send stress through your body, fear of discovery, and distrust from even your friends.

Our society is seen by many as being in the same state as when Moses came down from Mount Sinai to discover people worshiping idols and committing every sin under the sun. Maybe they are right. Or they could be wrong. More likely the truth is somewhere in between. There is always hope and there is always the spirit of humanity within us. Thest best is yet to come.

Mortgage Meltdown: Ten Commandments

January 26, 2008

Ten Commandments and the Mortgage Meltdown

Sixth Aliyah: G‑d descended upon the mountain, and summoned Moses to its summit. G‑d instructed Moses to again warn the Israelites about the tragic end that awaited anyone who approaches the mountain itself. Only Moses and his brother Aaron were allowed on the mountain during this time. G‑d then spoke the Ten Commandments to the Israelite nation. They are: 1) Belief in G‑d. 2) Not to worship idols. 3) Not to take G‑d’s name in vain. 4) To keep the Shabbat. 5) To honor parents. 6) Not to murder, 7) commit adultery, 8) steal, 9) bear false witness or 10) covet another’s property.

Seventh Aliyah: The Israelites were left traumatized by the overwhelming revelation, the awesome “light and sound” show. They turned to Moses and asked that from thereon he serve as an intermediary between them and G‑d—Moses should hear G‑d’s word and transmit it to the people. Moses agreed. The reading concludes with a prohibition against creating idolatrous graven images – considering that no image was seen when G‑d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai – and the commandment to erect a sacrificial altar. The altar stones should not be hewn with iron implements, nor should there be steps leading to the top of the altar.

People often ignore their faith by failing to consider the effect of living their faith as good people rather than living strictly accordingly to the laws of necessity. Necessity is of the moment and in the eyes of the beholder. The events leading up to Mount Sinai and the delivery of the ten commandments constitute the first successful attempt to organize a civilized society that would function in accordance with the consent of the governed, based upon a higher good, and administered by people chosen for their wisdom. 

Religion: It might seem a stretch to connect the economic problems facing the world today and the possible remedies under spiritual analysis but consider, just for a moment, the possibility that people were motivated not by saving their property, blaming another, punishing the people who put us in this mess and giving vent to anger. Let’s take a look.

The first Commandment is to believe in G-d. Everyone has an opinion on this. The choices boil down to three (a) belief, (b) not sure (Agnostic) and (c) non-belief. Dig down deep and you will find a believer in some higher power in every agnostic and atheist. Dig just a little and you will discover that nearly everyone knows right from wrong and their knowledge and belief as to right and wrong is pretty much covered by the ten commandments or something like it in the scriptures of some other faith.

So let’s approach the commandments as a heuristic (rule of thumb) theory that most of us would agree with on one level or another regardless of our religious preference or our preference in expressing belief in a higher power or being. In fact, that takes care of the the first commandment: belief in a higher power whether physical or spiritual is all that is necessary to satisfy its requirement.

Don’t worship idols. As Suze Ormand says, put people first, not money. Money is an idol not a thing. It is a concept that facilitates commerce as long as people are willing to accept the concept. It changes in form from wampum, to beads, to giant rocks to precious metals, precious gems, coinage, written promises of redemption into precious objects, fiat money (paper declared to be money by the government because they say so), digital forms used in electronic payment systems, and more exotic concepts like derivatives which create changes in our money supply without the help or interference of our supposed lender of last resort, the Federal Reserve. Most of us spend more time on issues concerning money than issues concerning G-d or the other commandments. 

My point is that if you pursue money at the cost of the other commandments, you will end up with neither. The reason has nothing to do with G-d’s wrath. It has everything to do with staying with fundamental straightforward conduct of commerce that everyone can understand and that can be counted using the most primitive of systems. Wall Street professionals, of which I am one, are fond of saying that in the end it is the fundamentals that count. But they don’t — not now and not for a long time. 

Don’t take G-d’s name in vain. Whether you are an evangelical preacher or a Wall Street tycoon, don’t pretend that your words come from G-D or are inspired by G-d — unless you can prove it. And you can prove it by showing that you are living the life of a pious person who follows the commandments. You are not following it if you use G-d’s name to get money from someone else and put it into your own pocket for your use. Note that I do not condemn or even disfavor commerce. I merely offer the judgement that if the commerce is done in G-d’s name it is a false claim. 

Keep the Sabbath. Here is where we cut to the chase. If you really wish to live a life of peace, contentment, satisfaction and goodness, then you will allow time to contemplate your existence in this dimension,universe or world or whatever you wish to call it. A little prayer, a little reading, a little observance of some ritual that reminds you and your family that the leader of the family sets the tone of everyone’s life by instructing the children on the concepts of right and wrong, and brings the children within a community of like-minded individuals. Or you can try to make one more deal and worship the idol of money and wealth, or football and worship the idol of competition rather than cooperation. The assumption of Adam Smith with his faith-based “invisible hand” is true only in the abstract. we can only approximate it by our own good behavior. In the end, we are creatures exhibiting both competitive and cooperative qualities. How we reconcile and channel those qualities for the good of our selves and those around us is the great challenge of humanity and the meaning of our lives.

Honor parents. We live in a society where many children barely see or know their parents, who are busy acquiring material things or otherwise pursuing goals in life that have little to do with the bond of parent and child. Taken in a broader sense, honoring our parents goes back generations when people conducted commerce and social events for the benefit of themselves and others. Children need models, not money as a substitute for attention. If we want our children to honor us, we must earn it by giving them all we can of our wisdom and a true sense of right and wrong. A child honors his/her parents by committing themselves to being educated — but only if the parents show an interest in the child’s education. Every study of every kind provides us with the inescapable conclusion that a child that develops in a home where reading, analysis and articulation of ideas is a way of life, does well in school. Every study shows that the more successful a child is in school the more likely he/she will be in life in attaining meaning, content and satisfaction. And every such child will be led by their own inner sense to honor their parents. Buying things you don’t need, or don’t want shortly after you buy them leads a child to see your unhappiness and leads them to search for ways different than the way you conduct your life. Arguments over money and spending leads memories of discontent rather than a model that the child will follow to honor his/her parents.

Don’t Murder. This seems obvious. Yet scratch the surface and you find that we, as a society, promote, allow and create conditions all over the world which resulted in the needless death — violent and otherwise — of millions of children, women and men. You may say this is not your intent. But if you know the result of your action or inaction will be produce the death of someone, what’s the difference?

Don’t commit adultery. In a world of people seeking contentment and satisfaction, unguided by the principles of basic right and wrong, adultery is a natural consequence. Commitment to one’s spouse and family, no matter how difficult or challenging, is far more likely to deliver the results you seek.

Don’t steal. Our sophisticated financial systems have taken the “art” of stealing to new heights and produced the greatest fraud on mankind in human history — the mortgage meltdown and credit crisis where thousands of towns, villages and counties are suffering from a decrease in revenue from their tax base because of the schemes of those who sought money for nothing, commerce without risk.  They took the lives of millions of people who wanted homes and millions of people who wanted to invest their money in safe investments, and created a bubble of lies. It worked too well. And now we have the problem and opportunity of remaking our world in the model we all seek. We may need new currency, new nations drawn from old boundaries, and new regulation and transparency that will reveal those in our midst who will ignore all moral precepts and seek only personal gain. The mortgage meltdown crisis was theft: from borrowers on one end and investors on the other end.

Don’t bear false witness: In short, don’t lie, ever. And don’t give the time of day to those who do. If we followed that, our government would be made up of different people, operating under different principles (originally set forth in our constitution and declaration of independence) and with far different result. Indifference to the suffering of others, education of our young to avoid mistakes we don’t want in our society, would be minimized. I’ve asked about a hundred people the following question: If you had a button that you could push and the result would be that everyone in government would be fired, would you push it, the answer was yes in every case. The reason cited was lies.

Don’t covet another’s property. It seems that in our world right and wrong have been turned upside down. The objective in commerce is to get you to part with your property and have it in the possession of another. The objective is not to add value to each other’s lives. Our social and economic policies have gone down the historical path of channeling wealth from the people who can’t afford it to the people who don’t need it. As the foreclosures, dislocations, bankruptcies and dissolution of families takes another giant leap forward, social unrest becomes a an increasing probability. Maybe, as Jefferson said, a little revolution now and then is a good thing. But is it necessary?

Truth and Justice

December 8, 2007

Truth and Justice In our morning prayers and Sabbath prayers we reserve truth and justice to the province of G-d. It is as though we only consider those ordinances when we pray, as though these are the only times that we are under the eyes of G-d. And Truth and Justice are relegated and delegated to G-d and to those rare people who have the luxury of practicing it as a consistent part of their lives. Let me postulate a different general principle, that we are all empowered by submitting ourselves to a higher power. Therefore truth, justice and good deeds are the path to power and riches. Our Torah and prayer books exhort us to be better people than we were the day    before. Little steps each day add up to great works and legacies. We all know this, but we feel constrained by the behavior of others. After all there are many corrupt people in this world who hide behind the veil of righteousness. One need look no further than people in positions of trust and authority to find examples of corruption and circumstances that we think “force” us to fight fire with fire — to bend the rules, to deceive, and to win at all costs. But it doesn’t work out that way, does it? As all people are endowed with certain unalienable rights, as stated in the U. S. Constitution, so are they imbued with an innate knowledge of truth, justice, and fairness. It is true no matter where one looks in the world and no matter what religious practices are followed. The knowledge is there, and it is used more than we think. Yet I concede that culturally there is a perception of a divide between what we consider “real life” and the spiritual. Goodness, truth and justice are reserved for special times and special circumstances. The rest of the time we are at each other’s throats.  So how is that practice working out for us? If you feel the world is the way you would like it, then in truth there is nothing for you to do to make it better. But, if like most of us, you see conflict, intolerance, ideologies of prejudice, bigotry and grabs for power based upon an alleged superior world view or G-d view, then we have work to do. In my time on earth I have done good things and bad things. Most of all I have merely existed, doing neither good nor bad, more or less thinking of my life and the meaning of life in the abstract. This Blog is part of a multifaceted campaign of mine to change me, my life, into something more fruitful and more meaningful than it has been.  I reject reflection on my good deeds as an excuse to stop evolving. I can and I will be a better person today than I was yesterday and give thanks to G-d for the opportunity to do so. My prayers remind me of His presence, but it in my deeds that I serve G-d (and myself). If you have seen the movie “pay It Forward” you have some idea of what I am talking about. The idea is simple, and involves no special skills. Observe your environment in whatever way you can. Find some person who is in need of help. If you have something that will help them then do it as anonymously as possible. If you are not sure of yourself, ask. Respect the answer — either perform the mitzvah or move onto someone else.  Now here is the important part, refuse any word or act of thanks and instead, if you were unable to perform the mitzvah anonymously, express your appreciation to the person receiving your help for this opportunity to serve them and G-d. And then ask them to do one thing: ask them to find something good they can do for someone else that day no matter how small. 

You get the idea. Pass this on. Pass this on even to people that you are not sure will receive it well. They will surprise you.

Scriptures and Torah, A Meeting of Minds and Hearts

October 27, 2007

I am often asked about the apparent conflicts between Christian Scripture and the “old testament”, the Torah. We find the same concepts in the teaching of Christ, only in more down to earth terms. And the people who interpreted the teachings of Christ were well-intentioned messengers who added to the acceptance of those teachings. 

In Matthew 17:1-13, there is a passage that conforms in substance with everything that Judaism is about.  

The Matthew passage tells me that we overlook the obvious. We seek redemption and the help of spiritual sources and they come, but we do not recognize them when they are right in front of us. It is the same way as “knowing who your friends are.” People are inclined to listen to those who tell them what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. 

When the pupil is ready, the teacher appears. The teacher doesn’t materialize out of thin air. The teacher is always there. It is not until we are open to the possibility of being taught that we recognize the teacher. The word “believe’ comes from old English and its original meaning was “to be willing.” It is a statement of being open to consider that which you know nothing about, or not enough to form an opinion. The willingness is a submission to a higher authority, a possibility that your perceptions and beliefs need or at least could change in the light of new information and insights. 

John Meynard Keynes, the economist,  once said when questioned on a change of opinion “When the facts, so do my opinions. what do you do sir?”In Mark 9:1-13 we find even more support for the joining of our hearts as Jews and Christians. The Mark passage that is most significant to me is the coming down from the mountain of transfiguration means the bringing down of the power of the vision to the plane of daily life. 

They talked of John the Baptist as they came down the mountain; for it is by repentance that the power of the Lord is brought into life. It is by the revelation of the possibility of transfiguration that humans can transcend the bonds of their evolutionary heritage. It is the message of both Judaism and the scriptures of Christianity that we can, if we are willing, come to see and acquire faith in our ability and the ability of all people to transform their lives from the abstract, from the apparent randomness of life into meaning within chaos — a meaning that is far more useful to us and the rest of our species than accepting the ambiguity of random ethics.  

Sabbath Reading and Praying

October 20, 2007

Reading the Torah is an act of faith in itself. Why take the time from your busy schedule and competing needs of others to attend to the words contained in a book — even if they are the words of a God you don’t understand and probably never will?

I read the Torah not because it tells me what to do but because it tells me how to improve my thinking, my intentions and my goals in life. I spend the time every Saturday morning reading the Torah, praying and thinking and meditating, because it gives me a balance and meaning.

Whether your personal philosophy is to believe that the words must be taken “literally” or symbolically, the process of the mind and heart is engaged. The words of the Torah, translated into English are someone else’s interpretation of the Hebrew inscriptions, without benefit of knowing all the context of life when the first words appeared and without benefit of knowing the context of the life and knowledge of the translator. Thus the words of the Bible require me to consider their meaning regardless of whether I seek to follow their literal meaning or symbolic meaning. 

The great epiphany here for me is a recognition of the awesome size and contour of uncertainty. Regardless of what I decide the meaning is for me, the person next to me can have at least some differences considering the context of his life, education and experiences. The recognition of this vast unknowable space is rather like the physicist’s search for the “beginning” of the universe, which in turn has led to wondering if this is the only universe and what all that dark matter is that takes up 2/3 of our “universe.”

It is a recognition of something larger than ourselves, of forces greater than our personal decisions, and submitting to the inevitable power of something greater than our understanding controlling our very life and death. And in submitting to that greater power or force or God, we become empowered beyond our rational understanding. This is what drives me to be a better person and to leave the world a little better off than the way I found it.

Intro to the Good LIfe

October 13, 2007

Torah Tales

For people who actually do it, reading the Bible, the Torah, the Koran or whatever serves as basic scripture of your faith, is both useful and helpful in the sense that it gives our life more meaning, provides focus to our thinking, our statements and our actions, and leads us into the path of the “flow” — that force greater than ourselves that moves objects, energy, and matter the universe, and presents us with events that benchmark what we choose to believe as our history. 

On a more mundane level, but equally important to those of us blessed to live in the imperfect political world of the United States, frequent reading of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution would serve a similar purpose — in that these are the foundation “scriptures” of our society. 

I have often said that it seems that everyone has an opinion of the Bible but few have actually read it. Fewer still have thought about it very much after reading any part of it. And still fewer have actually analyzed it enough to come to their own opinions, beliefs and perceptions about life’s meaning and what that means for them — how they will act  , speak and perform in our society. The same is true about the documents written by the brilliant founders of our country, although they too were imperfect people who created a masterpiece, yet not perfection. A reading of the Declaration would reveal many similar conditions today that were recited as grounds for breaking the bonds of political relations and assuming a new government. 

A reading of the constitution today would settle many heated arguments — because the answer to many vexing issues is resolved fully and with finality — like guns in the 2nd and 9th amendment, and the rights of unborn children in the 5th and 14th amendment. Simply stated, the founders made it clear that they wanted the people to have the right to bear arms in a military sense. They said so. 

I don’t like guns or the proliferation of gun related violence in our country but if I want something different I either have to leave for another country where guns are not permitted, or get the support of enough people in this country to amend the constitution. It is the Supreme Law of the Land. 

I don’t like the whole idea if termination of pregnancies, nor meddling in the private bodies of women I don’t know telling them what they can or cannot do. I wouldn’t want anyone to do that with my body. But the rights of the fetus do not exist under the constitution. It says so very clearly that only a person actually born in the Untied States or to a person who is a U.S. Citizen is entitled to call themselves a citizen. And only citizens have the rights of “people” described in the constitution. As with guns, the battle cry of pro-life people should be to move to a country where or create one where pregnancy terminations are illegal or to get the support of enough people to amend the constitution to make terminations illegal here.

There are many more mundane example of earthly application of reading, meditation, thinking, meditation, analysis and uncovering what is in your heart and how you can live in an imperfect society. And just as the founding documents of our great country are the supreme law of the land, even if they do not perfectly represent our conception of how a perfect society should operate, so too is the bible of your faith the supreme word of a force or forces greater than yourself as to how to exist in the real world and how to seek change by doing good deeds.

Considerable effort has gone into the completely irreconcilable question of whether the bible is literally the work of a God who created the words, the scrolls and every letter, or the work of Moses who committed it to writing as best he could, or the work of multiple personalities over centuries. The latest archeological evidence points strongly in favor of Moses being the author of the Torah. Just as the latest archeological evidence also points to the fact that a man named Jesus existed and his teachings had a powerful effect on the rest of human history.

And as with our country’s founding documents, people have tended toward spending their money and time investigating things that are actually irrelevant. We spend an inordinate amount of effort deciding the ways things should be rather than determining the way things are. 

Thus we argue over who wrote the bible rather than what is in it. We speculate about what the author of the bible meant when we can decide what it means for ourselves, without some “leader” telling us. We argue over who the messiah is or will be rather than examining our own lives and whether we are acting within our concepts of right and wrong, good and evil. 

In our politics, our religion and even our economics, we ignore the elephant in the living room and go about proving ourselves right on agendas that don’t matter now and will be long forgotten in less than a generation. We align ourselves with others to be part of a collective rather than to perform acts of charity and goodness. We form political parties and organizations of religions as though the organizations themselves were the point rather than acting in accordance with natural moral law. 

This work, published for now over the Internet, seeks to change the dialogue from man’s search for power and people’s search of proof they are right, to the moral issue of creating meaning in our lives and meaning for our species, lest when we are shaken off by the process some call evolution and others call the will of God, we are relegated to a historical fact that some other species might or might not discover in a few million or a few billion years.

In short, I seek to stimulate the pursuit of a goal — to find out how we live love, if we will love one another in the year 2500, 3000 or 3500 A.D. or if we will exist at all having destroyed ourselves in the collapse of a grand or minor experiment created by the forces of evolution or the will of God.