Yings and Yangs

Yings and Yangs

Ying and yang, highs and lows, ups and downs, two sides of a coin, you get my point. It seems that everything in life that is good has its counterpart that is quite the opposite.

It seems as if we are not allowed to experience simple and straight ecstasy without there being some kind of pain to mar the perfection. Why if something is going well, is it “too good to be true”? Why can’t good, happiness, joy and fun be the given, and the sadness, pain and suffering be the anomaly?

I understand that Gd in His infinite wisdom created this perfect world, and He likes it just as it is, but if we, the little minions who are along for the ride don’t have the lenses to see the truth behind all Gd’s wisdom then why bother putting us through the wringer?

Do we gain by suffering that cleanses if we don’t see the cleanliness that follows? Is that suffering not in vain?

The past week held many incredible celebratory events for me and my family, birthdays of two of our precious children, an anniversary, AND a great surprise party for my wife, that went off without a hitch. By all estimations, my own included, I am a very, very blessed man.

So, I ask you, why then the need for the “flip side” of the coin? I am not going to turn this into a kvetch piece – much as I think this would make for an interesting column unto itself – but suffice it to say, that there have been many micro-crisis to potentially have ruined the joy of the week.

If it were not for my constant – literally, ongoing – focus not to let the negativity interfere with the good, I could have easily lost all the goodness in the face of the negativity that threatened to invade.

I wonder, if in fact, that is the very point of the yang, the low, the other side of the coin. Perhaps it is a requisite part of good that it be blended with bad, or holiness with evil, or pleasure with pain by some Divine instruction, but perhaps the purpose is not to ruin the ying or the high, rather to accentuate them.

Perhaps the way to make joy truly joyous,the happiness complete, and the gratitude absolute is by relishing it, holding onto it, and most importantly, protecting it from the forces that threaten to drown it.

Meaning to say, as wonderful as a celebration is, it is, indeed, fleeting. I hate that. You bust your chops for many days, weeks, even months to setup and execute a successful event or celebration, then after a couple hours it is all over.

How do you hold on to that joy, that happiness, that ecstasy? Well, nowadays we have pictures, and video, but those only help you relive the surface of the party. The exterior part of the celebration.

How to stay “online” with the experience, how does one live-stream in real time something that has already concluded?

I suggest that this doable as a result of the ubiquitous yang to every ying. The yang that threatens the ying, forces you to dig deep and find the inner ying and push the yang away. While that is painful, and can threaten to ruin the joy, it actually forces you to access the essence of the joy to not fall prey to the pain. It forces the goodness to be reignited and fuel the fight against the pain.

Is there another way? I am sure the big Boss upstairs can find another way. But until I am made aware of what that is, I want to look at life’s yangs as a means to a deeper and more continuous ying.

Blog 15/52

Picture commons.wikimedia.org

19 Thoughts for 19 Years of Marriage

Today was, כד׳ טבת, and it was our 19th wedding anniversary.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_7857-1024x687.jpg

It is also the nearly the same calendar set up as it was the year we got married. We got married January 2, 2000 (remember Y2K? We made it, thank Gd).

Raizel, I am still thankful you said yes!

As is becoming a tradition…, Here are 19 thoughts on marriage, life and children (they are a work in progress, truths I am working on, but by no means mastered) culled from years as a rabbi and marriage counseling, and 19 years of marriage. Some are new, some are repeats, some are my wisdom, some are stolen… all are good.. In my humble opinion…  Feel free to add some of your own… here we go, in no particular order

  1. “L-I-S-T-E-N” and “S-I-L-E-N-T” are the same letters, think about that.
  2. Chocolate solves many problems.
  3. Children will test your resolve as almost nothing in life will, if you can get through that, you can get through nearly anything together.
  4. Never make a decision when you are tired or angry.
    At the same time, don’t react when your spouse is tired or angry.
  5. The 10 second rule about reacting to something you didn’t like (to see or hear etc.) works better with about 10 minutes in a marriage. Suzy Welch’s idea of 10-10-10 works really well in life, and really well in marriage. Will this matter in 10, minutes, 10 months and 10 years? If not, don’t sweat it now.
  6. Men want solutions, women want to be heard. Don’t give solutions, even if you have really good ones… just hear.
  7. Random acts of kindness to your marriage may be better than birthday/anniversary kindnesses.
  8. (For men only) There is nothing wrong with setting an alert on your calendar to send a sweet comment/text to your spouse 🙂 .
  9. We are all weak at times. Accept that in yourself, and your spouse will accept it in you.
  10. Nothing is more “macho,” “manly,” or attractive than a confident man. Fake it till you make it.
  11. Don’t lie – (you’d think this is obvious, it isn’t) to your spouse, and more importantly to yourself (chew on that for a few minutes, this one is deep).
  12. Technology is ruining lives everywhere and in all circles, try to make sure that you are not holding a device when talking to your spouse. Literally, put it in your pocket when your spouse it talking to you.
  13. Keep the phone out of the bedroom and charge it far away from you.
  14. It is very confident of you to allow/encourage your spouse to go on a short vacation without you. That recharges them in a different way than a vacation with YOU does. BONUS: They will reciprocate.
  15. (My dad once told me) Fights/disagreements in a marriage actually can actually serve to strengthen the marriage. They create pores in the skin of the marriage that allows there to be friction and not have you slide away from one another. Example: Two pieces of smooth glass, even if they they very heavy, will slide right off one another because they are not porous. Two pieces of rubber, even if they light, will not slide off one another. If you can learn a lesson from every disagreement, you will have only gained more closeness.
  16. Shower your wife with praise and compliments when they don’t deserve it. Even more so when they do. They may say that they don’t like it, but they do.
  17. Nisht yeder emes darf men zogen – That was yiddish – In English, not every truth must be said.
  18. R. Samson Rifoel Hirsh (I think) explained a controversial passage in Pirkei Avot thus – You don’t need to share every one of your worries with your spouse. It doesn’t make them respect you more. That’s what friends are for.
  19. If you have a partner that really accepts you as  you are, you are the most blessed person on the planet. Together you can get through anything. You don’t have to be perfect, just perfect for each other!

L’chaim. Happy Anniversary!

Picture taken in our first year of marriage in the Catskills, NY. Photo Credits. Rifka Sarah Chein

Photo – Family Archives

Blog 14/52

Why I Am Getting Separated & Other New Years Resolutions

This is the time of year when people take upon themselves good resolutions to ring in the New Year. It is a good time as the Gregorian calendar resets, people – rightfully – feel that there is fresh slate being offered out there, and now is a good time to take good and positive new steps forward.

Being a veteran exercise buff – not that you could tell 🙂 – and gym rat, I look cynically at the sudden influx of workout buddies I get around this time of year, since I know it won’t last for most of them. I will have my machines back to myself in no time. Keeping our resolutions is a tough thing, so as I offer one of mine forward, I wish all a Happy New Year, filled with good resolutions and that we are still doing them in a few months from now.

Here is a letter I wrote to the object of my disaffection and thus my separation from it.

Dear Cellphone,

I say dear, as you are a close friend. I have you close nearby, in fact I can’t think of anything of my daily attire that is with me more or any routines where you are as ubiquitous. You are usually the first thing I look at in the morning, and that last I look at at night. There is almost no place you are not allowed to go. You go to holiest places in my life, my Shul where I pray, my Rebbe’s resting place where I go to introspect, and then, without skipping beat, you follow me right into the restroom.

You bring out the worst in me and ruin my relationships. I can be talking to people and you ping at me, and suddenly, in the midst of an important conversation with a friend or family member, and you suddenly demand my attention. I could ignore you, in theory, but I can’t. It is just plain rude, yet I violate this basic social etiquette whenever you are around.

Maybe it is the dopamine that you release in me. Scientists are now discovering that despite how powerful you are and how much good you can do, you are equally dangerous. Teenagers, and certainly children whose brains are just starting to develop are not equipped to handle the explosion of chemicals that you release in them every time you ring, ping, whistle or make any other funny or creative sound. Suicide rates are up. ADHD rates are up. Bullying rates are up. Human social interactivity is down. There used to be an obvious price for being nasty in public, now it’s a simple click of a button to hurt with virtually no consequences.

You ruin relationship for adults and don’t allow children and teenagers to ever have a proper one. I read a study, that ⅓ of divorces have “Facebook” mentioned as part of the reasons for the divorce.

I never thought being in my low 40’s I’d be grateful to have entered into a relationship when I did. I actually know what a healthy relationship looks like. The notion that you should get and give love, entertainment, guidance, criticism and more from another human being and not you, a device, is so foreign to today’s youth.

Frighteningly, we the adults are falling in with this. I am suddenly setting a very bad example. I am not practicing what I preach and everyone sees it. My kids are honest and innocent and they tell it to me straight.

Just last night I was bathing my kids, and one child told me, as I checked an all-too-important notification (just a little red dot next to the facebook app icon, no sound or anything, I turned that off a long time ago thinking this would help me look at you less… didn’t work) “who is more important to you, your phone or your child?” Never were more true words spoken by a five-year-old.

It’s hard to blame anyone for not wanting to have this exclusive relationship with the you. It’s the same reason people like pet dogs except much worse. Your pet dog is loyal, loving, non-judgmental, doesn’t berate you when you do wrong, makes you feel good when you’ve messed up basically gives you unconditional love.

You my dear phone are worse even more addictive, you give a false sense of all these above traits of the dog, you don’t even need to be fed (unless plugging you in for a few hours counts) taken for walks, cleaned up after. You give a false sense of my perfection when I should know when I make mistakes. When I should be interacting with others, you do that for me, so I find myself becoming more reclusive.

However, my dear phone it is more than just who you are. It’s even more about who and what you allow into my life. If you really loved me, you’d protect me. You make sure that I only was exposed to to get access to positive (even holy) influences.

In fact, you have not done this job well. You even have allowed other influences into my life that I now cannot do without. I mean that sincerely, that I cannot do without them. Take your buddy Facebook for example. I literally cannot run my business without it. I need it promote things that I do, and more. However, it has so many side effects that it has become unclear where its value ends and where its destruction begins.

I could be having a bad day, and a few blue-thumbs-up’s, (or red hearts on its Instagram cousin,) from a few people and all is better. Not really better, but it feels better, until it doesn’t feel better any more. Yet I keep looking at you, dear phone, again and again and again, waiting, hoping, for what? I don’t even know anymore.

I remember seeing a commercial, I think it was for an ISP provider where you saw a fellow with circles for eyes, sitting in front a computer and it read “You have reached the end of the internet.” I almost wish there was an end, so we could close you off and be done. But, like cigarettes, it appears, that your makers have designed you not for occasional recreational use, but rather that those who use you, become addicted to you and cannot seem to get away from you.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point clear. It is for these reasons, and more that I did not enumerate here, that we are entering a separation phase. We are not getting divorced, at least not now.

I will still deal with you, however there are going to be some major changes in our relationship.
For starters, social media apps are coming off of you, dear cellphone. I will check them in the morning and evening and occasionally mid-day as time allows. When they are checked it will be from a computer not on you. If anyone else out there needs me they can call or text.

Secondly, you are no longer going to be my master. I will decide when to have you next to me, and when to put you down. I am not going to available to all who think that they can you use you, oh cellphone, to call me or text me, or message me, or whatsapp me, or PM me, or DM at any time of day or night.

If the person is not my wife or child, please tell them, they may have to wait a bit until I get back to them. If ppl call me between 5:00pm when my children get home from school, until they are in bed, just take a message on your voicemail.

I can’t have my family competing with you for my attention. It turns out you are usually stronger than my willpower, so rather than fight, I am just putting you down. Hey, look at the upside, you finally get some rest, you may even get a charge while I put you down.

In closing, I hope that this trial separation improves our relationship. I hope it allows us to become better friends going forward with healthy boundaries and we can reconnect (pun intended) in a better and healthier manner, if not, well I don’t want to be negative but this trial separation may have go further.

Happy New Year!

Picture FCW.com Blog 14/52

Two Fallen Trees Leaning On One Another

Two Fallen Trees Leaning On One Another

I feel some guilt writing about struggle during this time of year where everyone is off from work and taking it easy. It seems that the world has heaved one collective sigh of relief, and exhaled all their stress and anxiety in that breath.

I am sitting in a Starbucks on December 25th in the morning, because nothing will stand in the way of my cup of Joe, and to my surprise, this place is busier than a train station during rush hour.

I guess (I am not the only addict) perhaps, as much as we want to put all of life’s challenges and worries aside, they still gnaw at us and don’t let us really sleep in late, even on a day when we are “supposed” to focus on ourselves and families and leave our troubles outside. So people find themselves keeping some of their usual routines at the only establishment open on this quiet day.

I am taken back to a conversation had with someone close to me going through a very difficult chapter in their life. Ironically, it was at this very same Starbucks just a short while ago that this conversation took place.

Without compromising the rules of Rabbinic Hipaa laws, one spouse is facing some very unexpected challenges in life, things that are so unusual and upsetting, that even a fantasy writer would be hard pressed to come of with such incredible circumstances to make a person struggle. At this same time, this person’s spouse is batting medical issues, may they have a speedy recovery.

After chatting for a bit about all the ails of this person’s life, asked, simply “how is your spouse holding up with all this?”

That answer given, was a wonderful, deep and bittersweet response; “We are like two broken trees, that have fallen onto one another and are thus holding each other up.”

As beautiful as that was in its romantic poetic-ism, it highlighted something I have always known but struggled to find the correct wording for.

Everyone, literally everyone has something to contribute to this symphony called life. All of us, at one time or another find that life has broken us down to the point that we wonder if it is worth the struggle. We are too beaten down to do any lifting; Lifting of ourselves, much less the lifting of another.

Yet, even a broken tree, cracked at its base, if leaning into and onto another, even a broken other, can actually help them stand up.

The idea is profound, it means, not only do you matter when when feel/think you are down and out. In fact, sometimes the only way you can be that supportive tree is because you are broken. A healthy tree, won’t bend over to support another struggling tree. Only one that feels it is broken at its core will get out of itself enough to to be there for another.

I think that is the real joy and special-ness of this quieter time of year. When we are not just enjoying the down time, but when we can really enjoy, or at least accept the time that we are down.

Happy lifting.

Blog 13/52

Picture: gazette-tribune.com

Complex People – Do you really know your friend?

Complex People – Do you really know your friend?


We spend our lives with those around us, family, friends, acquaintances, business associates etc. knowing them but not really knowing them. You think you know your spouse, your child your friend, only to find out that they have skills you never knew, or alternatively, traits that you find less than desirable.

Is this who they always were, and I simply didn’t notice, or did they change? How could I have known someone so well only to learn of a new feature so many years later? Will the real you please stand up?

Even more common, is the dual personalities of someone in your orbit. One minute they are happy, the next minute they are sad. One minutes motivated and ready to conquer the world, a minute later they are negative and dark and lousy company. Well, which one is it? Who is the real you? Will the real you please stand up?

There is a great story in the Talmud of one particular sage – R. Gamliel –  who was very meticulous that all his student have “their insides match their outsides.”

Meaning, no duplicity, you either are one in mind, body, heart and soul or not. Either you are a good and dedicated person through and through in which case you are welcomed into my Yeshiva; If however you haven’t mastered this uniformity, you are not allowed in.

This was a very high bar, so high in fact that his yeshiva remained relatively small. When, in fact, he was dismissed from his position as Headmaster of that Yeshiva (due to rabbinic politics – an accusation that he did not afford another colleague – Rabbi Yehoshua – the correct honor) the sages debate if 400 or 700 benches of new student were brought into the school.

The story is very instructive, I believe, since while in a perfect world, we would all be clear and one minded and undivided internally. We’d be one with ourselves, and what you see would be exactly what you got.

In fact, however, we are layered. We are not one dimensional. We are made up of multiple shades and personalities. We are like the layers of an onion, and our environment, and external circumstances influence who and how we are and most importantly how we behave at any one given time.

We are not solely who we are at a given moment. We are the cumulation of all our different selves as influenced by both nature and nurture. And that is ok, because we are layered.

Yes, Rabbi Gamliel’s high standard of our “insides matching our outsides” – uniformity or thought, speech, action, mind and soul, is ideal, and a bar we ought to strive for, but in fact we are flawed human beings. Imperfect and journeying.

Having this awareness not only helps us be more understanding of those around us, but allows us the ability to be more at peace with our own fractured selves.

+++

The epilogue of the Rabbi Gamliel story was that he was eventually reinstalled as Headmaster (after the internal politics has been resolved) but his replacement – Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria – was not fired, rather he was now associate Headmaster.

To me this means, that the real goal is to struggle with finding this very balance. R. Gamliel’s high minded goal has value. It can’t take you to a point where you censure those who disagree with you (his crime for which he temporarily lost his job) , but it does have merit. Thus he was reinstalled to his position.

On one hand we need to aspire to higher, aspire to internal and external uniformity, on the other hand we need to accept that we are fractured and struggling souls. These to components as illogical as it may seem, CAN co-exist. This is actually called life. Layered life, but life.

Happy journeying!


picture alcohol.addictionblog.org

Blog 12/52

WHEN YOUR OIL IS RUNNING LOW

Today was one of those days that you usually hear mom’s kvetch about. Except that today, mom was out of town. On an early flight to Atlanta for a family celebration. So I was mom. 

Today began, well really today began last night. All parents have such days, when it seems that all that can go wrong, will.

One kid woke up with fever about an hour into my nap (calling it a night’s sleep would be overstating things) complaining of a sore throat. After settling him, the coughing began with another one of the children. It really didn’t stop. Still hasn’t. Post nasal drip is what we were told again and again.

There was a bar mitzva scheduled for this morning so I was grateful when I managed an early doctors appointment. Wasn’t as grateful when they 2 kids came back strep positive. 

Then the whirlwind began, baby sitter, bar mitzva, older kid to the bus, Chanukah party in Boston, dinner baths, Menorah etc.

I had really looking forward to lighting the entire eight candles of the menorah. To me this has always been my favorite time of the holiday, the culmination of an awesome holiday. I don’t always get sentimental, but this is my thing. 

Bleary eyed, I gathered the kids around and we lit the candles. However one of my wicks just wouldn’t say lit. I lit it and re-lit it again and again but it wasn’t working. I pushed the wick deeper into the oil hoping that it would absorb more oil, perhaps then it would light, but that too didn’t work.

I then pulled the wick out more, even though the bottom of the wick would no longer reach the bottom of the oil glass (meaning it would burn less time than the others) but this way at least it would stay lit.

It worked. In fact it worked so well, that now that flame was larger than the others. Then it hit, me. 

What to do when your oil is running low? When you feel like you’ve run out of fuel to keep your flame lit, what can you do? Most people (myself included) try to bring the flame to it again and again. But if the fuel injector is not working, it still won’t light, no matter how many times you try. Then, common sense would be to stick the wick deeper into the oil trying to immerse yourself in your source of inspiration thinking that this should for sure work. But alas, this too does not always do the trick.

Sometimes, you have to trust that the fuel that has been previously injected is sufficiently potent.. Rather than go back for more inspiration – pushing the wick back into the oil – trust that the given inspiration is enough to keep your flames lit. Pull that wick a bit further from the source. See if it will light and stay lit? See if you have now mastered the message of the lights of the holiday, not just to light them but for them to be lights that are oleh me’aleha, are self sustaining lights. 

In all likelihood, you will find, particularly on this 8th and final night of Chanukah, that the light has so permeated you and your candles that when you pull it from the source, not only will your candle light, but it burn better and brighter than before.

Is this not the whole point of the holiday of lights? To take that light and bring into the cold bitter winter that follows?

This last day of Chanukah is called ZOS Chanukah, meaning THIS IS Chanukah. And well, isn’t this exactly what Chanukah really is all about?

Trust yourself and try it.

Blog post 11/52

Picture credit – Mordy Schusterman

To Influence Quietly – Being the light

Oh Chanukah oh Chanukah, come light the menorah…

As Chanukah goes, we light those lights, doing our best to make each night, just a bit brighter. We’ve heard all the expressions, “a little light pushes away a lot of darkness.” Or “in these dark times, we need to show how to be bright.” My favorite one is “be the light you want to see.”

I want to be the light.

Do I want to be the light or do I want to be the candle? Does it matter? In this case, the light is also a flame of fire, fed by oil or wax; however, fire, while bright and warm/hot, is also the source of great destruction and devastation. Perhaps “being the light” means being good light or flames. Flames the that heal and help, not flames that destroy and hurt?

Fire is a mixed bag in that way. We thank Gd for the fire that He gifted us when we bless the Creator of flames during Havdadah on Saturday night. Yet in California, or Israel and other places, those same flames, when misused wreak total havoc on land and lives.

Some people, like some fires, are loud and bombastic. They do create light and noise, but even though they are generating heat and illumination, they are not necessarily creating healthy light. They are not being the candle, they are not being the light.

Sometimes, you can create a lot more light, quietly and efficiently. Sometimes bigger, just is not better..

There is an ongoing debate of power vs. influence. Which is more valuable and important. Power typically meaning might, and strength, is usable for both positive and negative. A powerful person can affect change that a weaker person cannot. However, a powerful person can also misuse that strength to force their will on others. A powerful person can use their strength to crush and destroy others.

So too with influence. To have the ability to influence another is a great gift, which can be used and misused. To be an influencer for good makes you both great and powerful, and if used to lead others astray, is, well strong but bad.

I think this may be what it means to be the light.

Everyone has the ability to be powerful and influential. We all have light and warmth to share. We need to simply decide how we are going to unleash it. Will it be soft, influential and enduring? Or will it be destructive and temporary?

Those forest fires that ravaged Northern California and Ventura Valley, were mighty and strong, but they will never be remembered as being beautiful and wonderful. They were powerful but mercilessly destructive.

Being the light, means accessing the inner resources that I have within, and using them to make me both powerful and influential in a kosher way, in a helpful way, in a healing way. Then, and only then am I the light. And you can make a bracha on it.

 

Blog 10/52

Picture yeshshem.com

Deconstructing Chassidus

Chassidus, a term often associated with bearded and black hatted men, and often with long side locks, but is about as misunderstood as the Halicephalobus gingivalis (the rarest worm according to google).

In fact, this week, Tuesday and Wednesday Chassidim of all stripes celebrated the release from Jail of the Alter Rebbe, or Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe. To on outsider, this must seem seriously strange. A bunch of funny looking people celebrating a holiday that seems to make no sense. Celebrating a spiritual grandfather being released from a Russian prison hundreds of years prior.

I grew up in a home that was replete with Chassidic teachings, and dedication to the ideals of our Chassidic master, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe of Righteous Memory, but in truth, while I studied the required texts, the daily study, and the requisite discourses and speeches taught in school, I never understood how that morphed from intellectual and mystical concepts, and moved into the arena of the practical.

Growing up, I often heard my father comment, that the difficulties of his life were overcome in large part by his intense study and focus on Chassidic discourses and studies.

To me, there was always a disconnect. How does study about Gd, creation, souls, heavenly spheres, mystical realms, all wonderful intellectual pursuits, convert into a practical actionable behaviors that can truly help me in physical mundane pinch.

How does my esoteric studies pay bills that I don’t have money for? How does 5 levels of soul, soothe the pain of of life, and dreams unrealized? How does studying what systems Gd did or didn’t use when creating a world, (starting with Chaos before settling on Order – Tohu/Tikkun ) help me in day to day struggle to be a good person, parent, spouse, keep my temper in check, make good choices, stand up in the face of temptation and so on?

I think the answer lies in how I have always looked at it. I’ve looked at this question of Chassidus and my relationship to it, as I would any other topic or concept I don’t understand well. I’d seek to define it. If you look at wikipedia, you get an interesting definition, that describes the body of the topic but not the all too important soul of it.

Wikipedia: Hasidic philosophy or Hasidism (Hebrew: חסידות‬), alternatively transliterated as Hasidut or Chassidus, consists of the teachings of the Hasidic movement, which are the teachings of the Hasidic rebbes, often in the form of commentary on the Torah (the Five books of Moses) and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). Hasidism deals with a range of spiritual concepts such as God, the soul, and the Torah, dealing with esoteric matters but often making them understandable, applicable and finding practical expressions.

This is all curious and interesting but is missing the concrete essence of what Chassidus really is.

While technically,Chassidus is a form of study; A deeper layer to Torah study. What is known as the “sod” – the Mystical or the secret parts – of Torah, what Chassidus really is, is a life manual wrapped in academic lingo.

Meaning to say, true, you need to study the material to get the info, but the knowledge of the various levels of the soul, or the 10 mystical sefirot and the four mystical worlds is not a goal unto itself. That is like studying math in a classroom but not applying it to your profit and loss sheets when running a business etc.

The purpose of all this study is to realize that just under the surface of the world and life we live is a deeper layer that is in a lot of ways more truthful than our very existence.

That deeper truth is that Gd while not visible is actually ever-present in our everyday existence. He is observing, actively involved, orchestrating in fact every single element of our life. He gives us the ownership stake to make decisions based on the realities He puts in front of us, but he is undoubtedly aware and invested in our every act.

That being the case, suddenly there is a no such thing as randomness in our life. Everything is part of a larger whole. The puppeteer being Gd and as such, we, the marionettes have nothing to fear, as we are really part of a larger play being performed by the Master.

Of course this doesn’t pay bills or solve the actual pain of loss etc. or guide us specifically when working through a crisis, but what it does do is tell us the bills, the pain and the crisis are not random events that should throw us off kilter. These are events that were choreographed for us, and the choreographer has a solution to them. We simply need to go and find that solution.

If we believe in Him, then we believe He doesn’t make mistakes. So, along with the problem, is the solution. In fact the solution was brought in before the problem.

And this, perhaps is what Jews and Chassidim are celebrating on 19 and 20 Kislev. On the surface it is the freedom of the Alter Rebbe from jail. On a deeper and more global level, we are celebrating the freedom of the letters of Chassidus – the mystical parts of the Torah – from their imprisonment of simple academic understanding, and releasing them into the actionable, practical application that they were really meant to for.

Wishing us all freedom from our personal imprisonments.

 

9/52

Picture: machonchana.org

Hating Hate

This blog is dedicated to the Jews massacred in Pittsburgh, the Jews in Israel dodging rockets, the Jews on the North Shore scared by the swastikas and blown out windows by BB bullets, and Jews around the world that are scared by what appears to be an old trend creeping back in – Jew Hatred

I hate, hate.

I hate having to hate.

The haters love to hate, as much as I hate to hate.

To have so much hate that you will go and wantonly destroy other people’s property and and mark up spaces with symbols of hate, requires a lot of hate

To have so much hate, that you can willfully, unprovoked, cause death and destruction, to both structure and humans, well, that’s whole a lot of hate. The willful taking of a parent from a child, a spouse from his or her beloved, or a child from a parent requires so much hate.

I don’t know how to hate like that. I received no training on how to hate like the haters that hate. How do I combat that hate, if I cannot hate like them?

We are told to spread light in the face of darkness, but does unending lightness and kindness put a damper on hate? History has not shown this to work effectively. You can combat pain with love. Anger with joy. Resentment with charity. But can you respond to hate with love?

Does love really kill hate? Do haters want to hate? Do they hate that they are filled with hate? Would they like their own hate to end? Would the haters even know that I responded to their hate with love?

I hate that people don’t call hate for what it is; hate. I hate that people are in denial and refuse to see the hate that is staring at them in the face. They give the hate a different title. They call the hate by a different name, thus making it impossible to react to it accordingly. If you can’t call it by its name how can you get rid of it?

I hate that my children are growing up in a world that cannot reign in its own fellow humans. A (secret) society that glorifies fear, pain and suffering of others as a goal unto itself.

I hate that Jews (and others) have to be afraid when it seemed we had matured as a nation beyond this kind of stuff.

I hate that this conversation is even necessary. That’s what I hate.

I hate that we are divided.

I love that there is hope. I love that there are lovers out there. I love that I am not defined by the hate or the haters. I love that I can choose my response to their hate. I love that I can control what I do with their toxic infusion of hate. I love that I choose to turn that poison into medicine. To cure with the ingredients that they intended for harm. I have a lot of love in me. I still have some hate as well.

I hate that there is so much hate, but I’d hate for you to mistakenly assume that my hatred of hate will make me accept the hate.

Oh no, sorry Mr and Mrs Hater, you have not seen the last of me yet. We will eradicate you like the cancer that you are. We will remove you and all your friends and relatives for our midst, so  that love and his and her family can replace you.

Goodbye Hate

Hello Love

 

Blog 8/52

Photo: http://rabbisacks.org

On why we have children

I once heard Dennis Prager comment that the hardest but most rewarding thing you will ever do is have/raise children. I understood that at the time he said it some 10 years ago or more. But seem to be relearning it again and again.

At this very interesting stage of my life where I have my youngest child in diapers and my eldest in college, I find myself pulled a bit in both directions. I don’t sleep either because I am worried about something my older kids are doing or working through, and when I do finally get some sleep, I might be awoken by the my baby’s need for a diaper change or a wayward bottle or pacifier.

In truth, I have learned, as much as I can fret and worry about either side of the family sandwich, there is not a whole lot accomplished by worrying about it. The diaper doesn’t stay drying, and the “snowflake” drama doesn’t diminish with the amount of time I put in thinking about it. “Don’t ride the roller coaster with them”, an experienced veteran educator recently told me.

So why do we do it? Why do we subject ourselves to never ending work of raising kids? Wouldn’t life be so much easier having a small family or even no children at all? Not to mention the exorbitant cost? I feel like an ATM machine, except I have to dispense money regardless if there is actually any dough in the account?

I’ve heard it said, that the other side of pain is joy. Meaning one cannot exist without the other. The spout that emits joy is the same one that emits pain. You can’t have one without the other. If you shut off the spigot that brings pain, you don’t get only joy, you get nothing.

One of my teens recently spent time berating me for some imagined crime for which I was not only not guilty of, in fact I was working to help them. Totally at loss, I seethed inside before throwing in the towel, licking the wounds of failure, wondering if there was hope. The next morning, as if nothing had happened, that same child snuggled next to me on the couch telling me how lucky they were to have me as a parent.

The ecstasy of that moment, not only made me forget the previous days pain, it made it worth yesterday’s pain.

How is it that one child, or one conversation with said child can cause so much tears? Some of joy and some of despair?

Rabbi Lau, writes in his book “From the Depths” about an incident in post war France, where the boys in his group were asked to hear a philanthropist speak to them, and they were none to happy as they felt like props in a fundraising propaganda machine.

Later when one of the speakers, a survivor himself, spoke to them, empathized with them, validated them and told them that they were his hope for a future, the boys began to cry. It was as if the floodgates of years of pent up pain and tears finally broke forth like a breached dam.

Later, one of the boys thanked that speaker saying that now they had cried, he knew that they could also laugh as well. Previously he had felt nothing inside, not happiness or sadness, just dead-ness. Now he felt that his emotional faucet had been turned back on.

I don’t know why life is designed this way. That is a theological question above my pay grade. And this doesn’t mean to say that people without children cannot live, have fun, joy, laughter or the like.

What it does mean, is that if one is forced to endure pain, any kind of pain (today I am talking the pain of child raising, but this concept applies to any kind of pain), it means there is a deeper joy on the other side of that self-same pain coin.

So, as I visit my college aged son, after having changed one last diaper before heading off to the airport, I will consider myself, the luckiest guy on the planet.

 

Blog 7/52

Picture babycenter.com