Posts Tagged ‘TRUTH’

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.



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What Will Your Children Remember?

May 31, 2008

This week’s Torah portion brings us to focus on our own lives and how we impact others, especially our children. What will they remember about you when you are gone? What will bring a smile to their faces, warmth in their heart and guidance for the development of their soul, their morality and ethics in a complex world? 

Only you can answer these questions for yourself and only you can make decisions today, now, on where this is all heading and how you might want steer a different course.

These are challenging questions. Knowing right from wrong is perfectly easy on certain extreme things. It doesn’t take much effort to figure out that killing a defenseless human being is wrong or that giving a helping hand to someone in need is right. But I believe that the real test of character and depth of a person’s soul is the effort made in determining right from wrong before acting in a complex world with competing needs and pressures.

It is exhausting enough to just live in this world. Taking time to exercise your mind, body and soul can seem just too much. But for myself, if I break it down into tiny baby steps, I find I can pull my rear end off the chair and do 10-15 minutes on the treadmill, write a letter to my kids, or think about the future of my grandchildren. If I allow myself just a moment to consider what is happening in my neighborhood, my society and the world I might come up with an idea to help people. I might even come up with an idea that gets my “motor running” out of retirement and into life. 

When I am confronted with a moral challenge it usually involves some vague feeling of right and wrong on the one hand, and either expediency or urgency (“necessity”) on the other hand. In my youth I am sorry to report I tended toward expediency followed by rationalization. As I got a little older, nearing thirty years of age, I began to realize that I was defining myself by my lapses in judgment, integrity and good will. One little step at a time, as an imperfect man in an imperfect world, I set out to change my course and to tell the truth even when it hurt a little to admit my errors — especially to myself.

I learned that self-disclosure empowered me. Nobody could hold anything over me because I was free to disclose my own failings and flaws. After a while it occurred to me that my ability to trust other people was not nearly as important as their ability and willingness to trust me at my word. So I made good on promises even when it was very inconvenient to do so.

I can remember a couple of debts that I had guaranteed for a failed business and I had moved out of state and out of the practical reach of the creditors of the business. But I had personally assured these people who extended the credit on the strength of trusting me. So it took years, but I paid it off. I sure would like to have had that money for myself, but at the end of my life I believe I will look back on that as something to be proud of and that if I had kept the money I would have that gnawing feeling as I expired, that I hadn’t done as well as I could have. 

My children know I don’t lie to them. My wife knows I don’t lie to her. My friends and business associates know I don’t lie to them and that I go out of my way to anticipate any misunderstandings that could arise so we are all confident in each other’s intent. And I don’t just avoid lying. I go out of my way to tell the truth and I don’t withhold it unless I believe it would serve no constructive purpose and would actually hurt or harm people.

A funny thing happened along the way. I decided to help people going through the agony of foreclosures and published a blog and gave of my time and money to people in need. I made friends, helped people and now, despite no intent to do so, I have a business with associates of good intent whom I trust and who trust me. 

My hope is that my children and grandchildren have come to know this about me and that I serve as model for their lives, despite all the mistakes and lapses in parenting to which I now confess and all those which I don’t even realize. I see in them the sense of integrity in their lives and the willingness of others to have complete faith in them. I like that. I’m proud of them. 

I’m blessed to have good relatives, a good wife, good children, and good friends whom I love and who love me. I’ll mess up more before I shed this mortal coil, but on the whole, I think I am doing OK. 

—Neil Garfield, May 31, 2008

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Here is an article I found on the net that I thought was particularly good reading:

The Head of a Family Tree 
Torah Portion: Bamidbar
by Rabbi Stephen Baars 

 

“When one learns as a child, it is like ink on fresh paper; when one learns as an old man, it is like ink on erased paper.” (Pirkei Avos 4:25)

 

There is a true story about an 8-year-old boy who came home from school one day to find his house on fire. As the blaze raged on, the boy’s mother stood there and cried. “It is awful to lose our home and possessions,” the mother sobbed, “But most of all, we can never replace our family tree which recorded our lineage back to King David!”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” said the boy, “I’ll start a new lineage.” (The boy went on to become a great 19th century rabbi, known as the Maggid of Mezrich.)

 

* * * 

THE KEY INGREDIENTS

We live in a very materialistic society. Many choose to spend their time acquiring objects rather than acquiring their children’s admiration.

We tend to worry more over bills than morals. We tend to get upset with others quicker than we apologize.

These are the values of our society. The question is do we want to make these the values of our children? How we choose to approach life is going to be how our children will, too. Following the path of society will make us as memorable to our descendants as an old movie.

Here’s a typical scenario to consider:

When you get a dent in the car, do you panic and get angry? Or do you put it into perspective and realize there are more important things in life to fret about?

Getting upset may help vent your anger – but it also shows your child what is really important in life. The car may be repaired and the dent removed, but the dent in your child’s personality does not come out so easily.

Children will not ask their parents for advice if the parents are not perceived as being truly happy. If life is always “getting to you,” then your kids are not going to ask you how to manage life. In fact, they’ll probably want to give you advice instead!

 

* * * 

SOMEONE THE CHILDREN WILL BE PROUD OF

The Torah tells us that Abraham would actually seek out strangers and offer them a meal. This was not the norm then and it’s certainly not the norm now. It affected his children and grandchildren. And until today, the Jewish People are known for their kindness to strangers.

Will you teach your kids that it’s more important to have the most exquisite sofa – or to have the most guests using that sofa?

Be kinder than everyone else… Be more forgiving than everyone else… Be more giving and willing to help than everyone else… Be more patient than everyone else…

Your generosity toward others is more likely to create an exceptional child than any amount of schooling – no matter how high the tuition.

A story:

Two women, Sarah and Rachel, recently met in the grocery store. Since Sarah was pregnant, Rachel asked if there was anything she could do to help out. Sarah’s mother (who was visiting from out-of-town) said, “Sure, I need to go to the other side of town to visit my elderly uncle. Will you drive me back and forth?”

Sarah immediately pulled Rachel aside and apologized, saying that her mother didn’t realize that Rachel had four small children of her own to take care of.

“It’s fine, I’d be happy to take your mother,” Rachel said. “I’ll just put all the kids in the car and we’ll go for a ride. It’s good for my children to see me doing a kindness for a stranger. It’s my pleasure, it really is.”

With the high price of education – and the small price of patience, charity, and kindness – shouldn’t we be more involved with the “bargains?”

We are willing to put in the effort to make our children richer and more comfortable than ourselves. How much more meaningful would it be to make them happier and kinder than ourselves.

 

* * * 

CHOOSE YOUR LEGACY

When your children reflect back on your life, will they see an inspiring leader who made a profound impact on the world – or will they see a parent who merely “followed the crowd,” just another brick in the wall?

You don’t start a lineage by conforming.

A good rule to follow: Instead of worrying what everyone else is saying about you, worry that your children will have something good to say about you, to everyone else.

We find this principle expressed in this week’s parsha. When God commands Moses to count the Jewish People, Moses is told to enlist the help of the tribal heads: “And with you (Moses) shall be one man from each tribe, each man should be the head of his family” (Numbers 1:4).

Rabbi Moshe Chaifetz explained the expression, “the head of his family” as someone who is the beginning of a new lineage. The “head” is the start of a new line. In other words, someone the children will be proud of.

What do we want our children to remember about us? Our striving for a more enriched life? Our quest for constant personal growth? Will they look to our lives for inspiration, for solutions to their problems? Will we be for them a lasting influence – or nothing more than a quaint memory? What a depressing thought if our children would think of us as irrelevant!

It would be nice to think that we could be sources of wisdom for our children. That they will bring to us the problems they face. That they will seek our advice. That in a crisis they will ask, “How would Mom and Dad deal with that?”

We are already going to spend a major amount of time, money and effort on our children. Why not spend a little more effort … and transform them into our legacy.

 

* * * 

BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Question 1: If you could write your own tombstone, what five praises or achievements would you like engraved on it?

Question 2: Ask your children who their heroes are. Are they the kind of role models you would chose for them?

Question 3: If you could magically instill one character trait or moral value into your children, what would it be? Now – what are you doing to make that a reality?

Author Biography:
Rabbi Stephen Baars came to Washington, D.C. in 1992 and serves as Executive Director of Aish DC/MD/VA. Aish has classes almost every night of the week in its N. Bethesda location, and day classes all over the city. Aish’s student body includes Senators, Congressmen, business professionals, and Jews from all walks of life and religious backgrounds.

Born and educated in London, Baars received rabbinical ordination after nine years of learning at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem. With a wry sense of humor and creative approach to teaching, Baars is famed as the only rabbi to perform stand-up comedy at The Improv in Santa Monica, California.

Steve is married to Ruth Baars and they are blessed with six children.


On Being Godly

April 12, 2008

I just finished reading an interpretation of this week’s Torah reading. We are going further into the idea of negative speech about another but more than that we are headed for the territory of deciding right and wrong. It is said that nobody is more Godly than anyone else. That is a useful sentiment. It is also said that we are Godly no matter what we do. That is more problematic. The conclusion is that the question is only whether we will act in a Godly fashion or not. The Jewish concept is that although a person may ‘do’ bad, his or her essence ‘is’ still good.

 

I find that self-serving, egocentric and permission to perform highly immoral and base acts, including statements about others. Nobody knows how to describe G-d, and nobody knows what G-d is or how G-d operates. We only know that there are forces and events of unimaginable scope going on all the time and that somehow we are part of the whole “thing.”

 

We are the product of these forces that some call G-d, evolution, or cosmic illusion or fact. The good the bad and the ugly. It is not useful to consider ourselves good no matter what we do. This will not enhance our quality of life, the survival of our species, or the advancement of morality.

 

It is useful to define ourselves as capable of doing good deeds. And it is a good and proper goal to define your day, and indeed your life by deciding on the morally correct choice rather than the convenient one. For most of us, it is not one or two major decisions that define who we are and how we appear in our society, it is the thousands of micro-decisions that occur within a conversation, while driving the car, while at work, while at home with your spouse or children, other family, or friends. 

 

In our society there are people who are following path of what we would describe as immorality. When confronted by people exuding evil intent or poor moral judgment, there is no one proper answer as to how to act. 

 

But it is a pretty good guess that killing them, enslaving them, or calling them names is not, in most cases, an act which should even be on the table. The fact that such extreme situations historically arise does not mean that most situations should be viewed from that perspective. In most situations, some common ground could be reached with a little effort, and a good deed could emerge, however small that might seem at the moment. 

 

I think this is what Obama is after and despite the charges of emptiness and moments of doubt that people may have, he is resonating with so many people because somewhere, deep inside, where they know right from wrong, they sense that he is on the right track. Whether you should vote for him to be president or insist that your preferred candidate follow in his footsteps of seeking harmony and common ground is up to you. Theoretically any candidate could do it if they really wanted to do it. 

 

Morality then confronts us with the sometimes difficult choice between easy answers, slogans or negative criticism on the one hand, and the more difficult and ephemeral pursuit of happiness and contentment. 

 

It is my observation that at least in this Country, the United States, we have chosen a path of easy ideology rather than morality. And we have become a nation governed by men rather than the laws we pass that reflect our sense of right and wrong. The laws state sometimes with great clarity what people should not do in government, business and social circumstances. Yet these prescribed acts happen anyway, with increasing regularity and with escalating consequences.

 

Ideology is never persuasive unless it presents the illusion of morality. People become comfortable with it and stop thinking about individual issues. They listen to leaders, neighbors or others who tell them who is to blame for the unhappiness in their lives. The preachers of their ideology — whether it is political, religious or philosophical — define the icons that their followers will follow. The will of the whole of society is ignored along with the chance to exercise any independent judgment about right and wrong in each thing that a person does. I call these “leaders” “ideological hounds.”

 

We become vulnerable to being led down blind alleys pursuing goals that serve only the leaders of the ideology whose agenda is by definition, domination over as many people as possible who can “contribute” to the “cause.” Any contrary voice is eliminated through any one or more of choices that everyone knows are immoral. 

 

We allow it because we are afraid of challenging those more powerful than us. We allow it because we are too busy trying to make ends meet. And we allow it because it is just plain easier to let somebody else do the thinking, even if the thinking is wrong. And of course we should not leave the subject without including the attractiveness of the entertainment aspect of these ideologies, who always put on a great show. 

 

The current criticism of Obama is an opportunity to test some of these thoughts. His “small town” remark, cleansed of context seems condescending, elitist, out of touch. His opponents wrap their spin around portions of his commentary and hold it up as meaning something he did not say. If he did not say it, it is a knowing falsehood to portray him as having meant anything like what his critics have portrayed. 

 

Read in context, Obama was reaching for a deeper meaning of right and wrong, and a deeper connection with some of the people who are resistant to his candidacy. Rather than castigating them , he was musing about their lives, the loss of employment, the loss of hope, standard of living and opportunity for children to do better than their parents. 

 

He described the bitterness and disappointment of people who were lied to about what the government and big business was doing. It has been a 25 year journey into darkness, of quiet desperation, for many people, while a few have taken an exciting ride into the high spheres of public and private finance. And he was describing the impact of ideological hounds that are described above in this essay. What he said was entirely truthful and correct. What Clinton and McCain reported he said is completely not truthful and incorrect and intentionally so. 

 

So now we are left with the uneasy feeling of excusing (forgiving) Clinton and McCain for committing immoral acts of deceit in the heat of battle or holding them accountable for their acts. And perhaps more importantly, we are faced with the bare naked truth of Obama’s musings about “small town” America, how vulnerable they are to ideology because all else and everyone else has deserted them. 

 

Maybe, the right thing to do, like the issue of race and racism, is to open the discussion up to Obama’s brave statements, rather than closing them down through compounded acts of negative criticism (i.e., shouting him down). He might be right or he might be wrong; but how will ever know unless we really examine the issues he presented?

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.

CORRUPTION OF THE SOUL

November 17, 2007

Another friend from long ago has admitted his guilt. He used his office of trust, his service to the public, as a launching platform for satisfaction of yearnings that live as demons feeding on his soul. He’ll spend some time in prison, contemplating the nature of his actions and evaluating whether it was worth it.

I know his demons — or should I say that my demons know his demons. Like him, I am neither as good as I would like to think I am nor as bad as some people would describe me. Like him I have committed acts of dishonesty and deception devoid of any good purpose other than satisfying my immediate lust for power, money or vindication. That I am not perfect is a fact not an excuse. 

Many stories from many people, shared with me in confidence. So let me stray from the particulars to the the general. My theme is the loss to one’s soul when we need soul. The external pressure to get in the game while the internal pressure tells us to do right. We change what is right in our mind’s eye so we can look at ourselves in the mirror. But we know. And we live in the dread of discovery instead of the light of satisfaction with ourselves. 

I have risen to the challenge and done the right thing at great sacrifice to myself, with great courage, and with a good moral compass. I know how it feels. And I have gone the other way as well. The first is better. Performing mitzvot, good deeds, lives long in your heart as a satisfying warmth that never ends. 

The Bible/Torah is one tool to focus our attention on the meaning of our existence, giving us the benefit of a view of thousands of years of history and putting our human species in perspective. We are the tool of the forces greater than ourselves that help define our meaning and our existence. 

My observation is that people who seek public office are often corrupt. In fact much has been written about the higher incidence of corruption and crime in public office than other walks of life. We read and learn of these acts and what do we do? Sometimes we simply notice it in passing as though it doesn’t matter in that case. But it does matter. Sometimes we rail against the system that permitted acts of treason, corruption, high crimes and misdemeanors. And then we do nothing.

Yet mostly what we do is elect more people who commit more acts of corruption and deceit. Let’s be honest. whatever your political persuasion, the candidate you like is the one you think we’ll win and you are willing to overlook too many things about that person. The more honest the candidate, the less traction they get, because his or her honesty reveals areas of possible disagreement. The less honest they are, the more evasive they become, the better they score in campaigns, debates and polls. 

It isn’t their fault that the system is working that way. It is our fault. We are the boss in the democracy we call our own. Candidates would be honest if we insisted on it. They act dishonestly and evasively because we demand that in our a view of a winning candidate. So we end up with people holding public office about whom we know very little and who will do many things we despise and disagree with. We are disappointed in them because we didn’t realize they act the way they did. 

So in the end we sacrificed our desire for truth, the feeding of each of our souls, and the  votes we cast to a lower principle —- winning. The option is usually there. Some candidate comes out and says exactly what he or she thinks and they are immediately marginalized as not viable. Why? The corruption we get is the corruption we voted for, we approved of, and we encouraged. That’s why. We value winning over morality.