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The pain of losing a dear one is an experience we all face at one time or another over the course of our lives, whether it be a relative, a close friend or a mentor. It is inevitable. How we deal with loss is variable and hopefully something we can manage in a healthy way.

In this week’s Torah reading, Miriam, the prophetess and sister of Moses, passes away. She has been one of the leaders of the Children of Israel for the 39 years of wandering in the desert and now she is gone. With her passing, the well of fresh water that has accompanied the 12 tribes has dried up. The Talmud explains that the wellspring followed the people only because of Miriam’s presence. With Miriam gone and the well dry, the people complain in anger to Moses and Aharon, questioning why they had been encouraged to leave Egypt at all.

Moses, also mourning the loss of his sister, is instructed by God to gather the people and speak to the rock, thereby causing water to pour out. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses loses his temper, hits the rock, and thereby loses his right to enter the Land of Israel. Anger seems to be rampant amongst the Israelites after Miriam’s passing and has dire consequences. It seems to me that this week we are being invited to reflect on the natural stages experienced by many of us when losing a loved one.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross, the Swiss psychiatrist noted five natural stages of loss and mourning that are often experienced – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When these stages can be identified and worked through they can lead to an acceptance that holds within it a healing and an opportunity for growth.

Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi states that one of the most instructive aspects of Torah, is that the protagonists are not perfect. Through Moses we learn how letting anger take over, can have negative, life changing consequences. He is devastated that he cannot enter the Land, and yet, for us, the readers, Moses teaches us how destructive anger can be and that if we reach out for help when anger is uncontrollable, we might find a way to harness that energy in a productive way.

If explored more fully, the other stages of mourning can be found in this week’s reading however for now, we will move to the last phase of mourning, acceptance, and the song/poem the Children of Israel sing near the end of the Torah reading. The people sing a song in celebration of clean water, rivers, springs and wells – we could call it a Song of Acceptance, acceptance that the reality of the Children of Israel is changed forever, Miriam has passed away. However her memory is a blessing and they find are other ways to access the wellspring which she provided. This week, may we be blessed with the ability to hold in gratitude the memory of mentors who have passed away, and find their blessings ever present in our lives.

May we also do our part to look after the precious fresh water we have on this earth

Anuncis

This Shabbat, we continue the theme of the past several weeks of the Israelites rebelling again Moses and God. The revolt this week is spearheaded by Korach, a cousin of Moses. His basic gripe is that he wants, in essence, a slice of the leadership pie. Why should Moses get to do it all on his own? Why should he dominate the limelight? Surely, Korach, being a certified Levite, should be eligible?

The rabbis, in their commentary, do not seem to have a problem with Korach’s complaint, but his motives. Moses has sacrificed so much, given up so much and yet, in spite of all, does not get the benefit of the doubt from people like Korach. Suggesting that Moses shares the load is not a bad suggestion. Yitro (Moses’ father-in-law) makes the same suggestion earlier on in the Bible and is rewarded. Korach makes that same suggestion and the earth swallows him up. What’s the difference?

Despite the best of intentions, how many times have our actions been misconstrued and our motives questioned? We find it very easy to question those we place on high, in leadership roles, thinking we could do it better when given the chance. But, we must ask ourselves, are we doubting because of genuine concern? Or is our questioning dictated by a need for attention or selfish reasons? Do we truly have an understanding of the position the leader is in? Or is it simply easier to throw barbs and make assumptions about the decisions and style?

That is the difference between Korach and Yitro. Yitro was interested in the wellbeing of his daughter’s marriage to Moses and the entire Jewish People. Korach simply wanted a piece of the action for himself. Yitro had a higher purpose for Moses to share the load, while Korach was interested in elevating himself, without any thought to the actual job.

When we inquire of our leaders, let it be with the strength and courage that follows self-reflection, that we are expecting of them is no less than the standards we place on ourselves, and that it is always for the greater good.

One day you find it and discover the best of you, that thing which makes you unique. That exact point where your passions and your virtues come together. And then, everything flows.

What is best about you? What makes you unique and valuable? What makes you enjoy life? There are those who have always known their vocation, their dream, their legend. And we envy these people. The classmate who in their childhood already knew she wanted to be a doctor; the violinist who discovered her passion for music at the age of six…

Know yourself

For others, “the thing” is not so clear. You ask yourself “What do I have to offer the world?” and nobody answers. The truth is that when we look in the mirror, it is easier to see the negative part: the defects, the problems, the improvable. In fact, there are experiments that show that when a people think about themselves, their mood tends to decline, presumably because they focus more on the bad than on the good.

This trend has even influenced the research of academic psychology: psychologists have always been better at investigating the misery of the human mind than studying their reserves of gold and precious stones.

Much more is published, for example, about depression and stress than about happiness or human virtues. However, this does not mean that the good of man is a mythical treasure, a non-existent “El Dorado”. In fact, in recent years, we have experienced the explosion of this movement called “positive psychology” that is investigating, with scientific methods, the results of the inner wealth of the person, of the human being with capital letters.

We all have a talent

On the one hand, there are the talents, those abilities and physical or mental characteristics that are usually inherited through the genetic patrimony: the artistic or musical sense, the manual skills, the agility of the body or the intellect. And, on the other hand, there are the virtues. Those strengths of the spirit that have a more moral character and that are conquered through experience and effort.

The father of positive psychology and author of The Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman, has developed along with Chris Peterson a list of the 24 strengths valued by most cultures. According to Seligman, each person has certain talents and virtues in which they stand out.

They are grouped into six categories:

1. Wisdom

2. Humanity

3. Justice

4. Balance

5. Courage

6. Transcendence.

It is easy to recognize the signs of these internal treasure: they bring satisfaction to our lives. If you enjoy putting your courage to the test, playing the guitar or using your sense of humor, these skills are your talents or strengths.

Flowing is love

The objective and the external level of development you have reached it is not important. What really maters is the potential for enjoyment with which you invest every moment. This is the theory behind the studies of researchers like Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi, author of The psychology of optimal experience.

According to this psychologist, “enjoyment” or “satisfaction” is a state of consciousness in which you “flow”, losing the notion of time and feeling in harmony with the activity you develop. The key to happiness for the father of the “flow theory” is precisely to use these talents and virtues daily, integrating them in your work, family and social rhythms, especially for the benefit of others. In other words, giving the world the best of yourself. Or in a single word: love.

In Erich Fromm’s Art of Love, love is described not as something that happens to you or that you receive, but as an art that should be cultivated with practice and effort, the art of giving others the expression of your true self.

By expressing yourself through your talents and strengths, you bring out what is most alive in you. And it is a truly magical treasure, because the more you give, the more you have for yourself and to give again. The act of expressing oneself requires effort and with that effort, talent or strength develops in the way a muscle does.

The feeling of “flowing” that you experience at that moment is the signal that you are opening to the beat of the music of the universe, enriching yourself and enriching the whole world with your unique contribution. The nature and the objective of the human being can be summarized in this creative skills that we all have.

The adventure of discovering your treasure

The first step is to discover these treasures, and for that we must observe ourselves and identify what activities and situations provide us with the sensation of flowing. Maybe, we have been already integrating some of them into our daily routine.

Other times it is necessary to try to do new things that put us to the test, to surprise us with an internal strength or aptitude that we did not know. Undoubtedly, the difficult moments of life are another great source of knowledge that can bring out the best we have inside.

There is no doubt that human beings have a great capacity to face and overcome the toughest challenges that life has for us.

Often, it is during difficult times that we are forced to use all our resources, growing more than ever. Most people suffer traumas in their lives and recover.

But a certain level of internal peace is necessary to be able to observe oneself. When the rush and the routines overwhelm us, they do not leave us the time or the calm that the listening requires. In these cases the priority is to escape, literally, from ourselves.

We have to escape from the complex network of watches, ties, rules and responsibilities that prevent us from seeing the essentials. We can escape to the sea, to the mountain, to the country side, to art, to psychotherapy or to meditation. Does not matter.

What’s important is to find a refuge where to obtain a clearer perspective, that “treasure island” that does not appear on any map.

Go ahead, then. The adventure is waiting for you. Go out in search of your inner wealth and, when you find it, do not forget to share it. Only in this way, you will transform, through the most natural chemistry, everything into gold.

Our story this week calls us to look upon many issues – among them perception, self-awareness, obligation and complicity for wrongdoing. All are relevant for each of us given this era of fake news, information and moral equivalencies. At the beginning of our parashah, Moses sends out twelve men, one from each tribe, to scout the land and to bring back intelligence concerning the strength of its inhabitants, the fortifications of the towns, and the general condition of the land – particular its topography and agriculture. They return with a positive report of the land and an accurate account of the strength of the people saying. However, while ten then analyze the people as being too strong to conquer, two – Caleb and Joshua – ensure the people the land can be overcome.

In response to the majority report, the people shout at Moses and Aaron: “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we might die in this wilderness…. Let us head back to Egypt!” (Numbers 14:2) What follows is the infamous decree that all those who rebelled would be prevented from reaching the final destination of the Promised Land; they will wander in the wilderness for 40 years until their generation has died. This punishment falls not just upon the spies and the community who rallied behind them in rebellion, but also those who were silent. We learn from our tradition that silent is assent to the majority position; only Caleb and Joshua, whose opposition to the wrongdoing was vocal will be permitted to enter the land of Israel.

From this parashah and the tradition that develops we learn that silence in the face of wrongdoing conveys complicity, or perhaps cowardice. In all events, it falls far short from the ideal of Torah and tradition to rectify wrongs by words of rebuke or acts of justice. We are the people who have championed that idea for thousands of years; we are the people who made it our catch cry after the Shoah: never be a perpetrator, never be a victim, never be a bystander. Yet, most of us do not break the silence over the wrongs perpetrated in our country or our world. We stand idly by with minorities still fighting for proper recognition and rights and immigrants and asylum seekers detained indefinitely on faraway out of sight. We remain inactive in the face of environmental despoliation and degradation. We cannot be bothered to think about how we treat animals as things. We know of these things but prefer not to consider them or speak out about them. Yet we Jews have a responsibility to speak out for justice and right, even if we are one voice against many and our view may not be popular.

Some of us are impulsive and others are undecided. There are some psychological tricks that help us to make decisions tend to be the right ones.

Sometimes we feel that we get too carried away by impulses and hunches. Others, the opposite happens, we give too many turns to things with the feeling that at each step we lose clarity and move towards confusion. Or towards insecurity.

Many scientific studies have reviewed for decades the motivations and reasoning that lie behind good (and bad) decisions. Starting from this base I propose a system that serves as a guide.

Exercise to take good decisions

These seven steps are a useful proposal to learn to decide. Following these steps you will be able to review different points of view that will lead to making decisions as calmly, accurately and safely as possible. Little by little you will be able to integrate these processes in your day to day.

1. Look for a calm place

get the following elements:

set aside enough time to reflect with calm

Three chairs or spaces to sit

A notepad and a pen

2. Organize the election

Sit in one of the three chairs, close your eyes and concentrate for a few moments until all other ideas or images that are alien to the decision you want to make are completely relegated to the background.

Start by calling “White” one option and “Black” the other.

3. Argue each option

Imagine that your name is “White” and that you will give your arguments in favor of an option. List the reasons for your choice in the affirmative. Record all of White’s arguments.

Now move to another chair and take the place of “Black.” Repeat the previous steps with your arguments and make another list.

4. Clear all your doubts

Sit back to White’s chair and read Black’s arguments from there. If you have good reasons in some of them, make a mark to the side.

Do the same by switching to Black’s site and reading White’s considerations and pointing out the most appropriate ones.

5. Become an observer

Now sit in the third chair and become the Collaborating Observer. Read carefully the two lists of arguments and stop where each one has indicated in the list of the other.

Make your own evaluation of both. Think if you want to ask something White or Black. To answer those questions, sit in the place of the person who answers and then return to your Observer site.

Finally, try to write a synthesizing proposal between the two points of view.

6. Evaluate your choice

Read your proposal aloud by first placing it in White’s place and read it again from White’s place. Listen to your choice from each of the two perspectives. Think if you need to make an amendment to any of them.

7. The moment of the decision

Alternate the steps of the previous point until you feel that you have come up with a proposal different from what Black and White propose, even if it contains reasons and arguments for each of them.

Outcome

It does not matter how many arguments each one of the parties that dialogues exposes. Neither should the one who exhibited the most reasons win, since all must be respected. The final option will be richer and resolute if it contains arguments from both parties

Finally, keep in mind that the figure of the Collaborating Observer represents our ability to self-assist. That is why it is convenient for you to resort to it consciously when making decisions, especially if we feel they are complex.

A young monk who joins a silent monastery. The rules are simple, the abbot tells him. “You can speak two words every ten years.” After ten years the young monk says “Bed hard.” Ten years later, “Food bad.” After 30 years he tells the abbot, “I quit.” The senior monk looks at him and says, “I’m not surprised, all you’ve done since you got here, is complain.”

Our ancestors’ tendency to complain is highlighted again in this week’s parasha. They approach Moses and tell him that they wish they had meat to eat. They also remind Moses; “We remember the fish that we used to eat (for) free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shrivelled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look (forward) to”.

Moses asks God; “Why have You done evil to Your servant; why have I not found favor in Your eyes, that You place the burden of this entire people upon me?”. He continues; “I alone cannot carry this entire nation, for it is too heavy for me! And if this is how You deal with me, then kill me now, if I have found favor in Your eyes, let me not see my evil”.

The Children of Israel’s reaction to their situation is a sign of failure. When in doubt, throw your arms in the air, give up, and complain. After all, you didn’t ask to leave Egypt – God, through Moses, told you to leave, to journey to the Promised Land. Every time there is a problem, just complain. Often, it is too easy for us just to complain. We can throw our arms in the air and give up. Why should we do anything about it?

There is, however, a positive way of dealing with situations like this, which can be of great help to all parties concerned. It may be easier to complain, but it is certainly more rewarding and it achieves a great deal more and a much quicker, when you aim to provide a possible solution to a problem.

There are at least three positive results relating to this approach. Firstly, you show that you have thought about the problem, without just complaining. Secondly, it shows that you want to solve the problem. Your solution may not always be achievable or viable, but at least you have given the problem some thought and provided a possible solution. Thirdly, it negates failure. Yes, it requires more effort and you need to look at the bigger picture, but it changes the mindset to one of success, not abandonment.

The Children of Israel chose to give up. They just ran straight to Moses, and complained. What should Moses have done? Perhaps he should have pointed out that had they still been in Egypt, they would still be slaves. Notwithstanding the fact that they have travelled so far already, and despite all the previous difficulties they encountered, they still made it to where they were.

We know, however, that Moses does not react in this manner, and he passes the burden on to God. He has done exactly what his followers did – he gave up. He doesn’t offer possible solutions, or even attempt to try and solve the problem, he just tells God that the Children of Israel are complaining, and he cannot take it anymore. In short, he too, has failed.

How does God react? God listens to Moses’ complaints, and realises that this is probably too much responsibility, and too much of a burden placed on Moses.

In God’s eyes, Moses has not necessarily failed, it’s just that there’s a limit on how much each person can do, even for Moses. One possible solution would have been for God to dismiss Moses as the leader, and appoint someone else. It is likely that this would not have worked, as there wasn’t a single person who offered a solution to Moses, they all just complained. As a result, God would still be left with someone who would have the same approach as Moses.

The solution – God tells Moses; “Gather seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and its officers; take them to the Tent of Meeting and have them stand there with you”.

Quite simply, God is giving Moses a form of council or parliament, who Moses can turn to for advice and support. This council became the Sanhedrin, which later became the highest religious and political body of the Jews, assisting in similar matters and creating safeguards and procedures to help leaders manage.

In essence, God had provided a solution, and a viable one at that. That didn’t mean that the complaining would stop, just that Moses had a support team to help him make decisions, so he wouldn’t feel abandoned and all alone when faced with similar problems in the future.

In short, he had acquired a reason and the correct support, in order to succeed. And sometimes the answer lies in not trying to do too much alone.

When I was working as a chaplain in hospital a lady approached me and said:

I’m Catholic and I hear you are a rabbi. My mother is dying and I would like you to give her a blessing.”

I thought to myself, what blessing would be most effective in this situation? Then I remembered that Christians use the priestly blessing from the Torah in some of their prayer services. It dawned on me, that this family might appreciate receiving this blessing in the original Hebrew, as well as in English. I gave the blessing, holding the fragile hands of the mother of the lady who had requested it. A special feeling filled the room and it felt like one of those times when a depth of cross cultural sharing had taken place. The wisdom and power of tradition was palpable.

In this week’s Torah reading, Nasso, we learn how in ancient times, the High Priest and his sons were instructed to bless the people. The words used thousands of year ago, are the same used today to bless each other – whether it be:

parents blessing their children on a Friday night (or before going to sleep), rabbis blessing couples at weddings,

listening to the soundtrack from Fiddler on the Roof,

prayer leaders blessing the community during the amida prayer,

or cohens, covered in their tallit, blessing community on festivals and special occasions.

It is amazing to contemplate the power of a phrase when it has been handed down for thousands of years – said at important times.

Here are the words of this priestly blessing, translated from Hebrew to English:

              May God bless and protect you.

              May God’s light shine on you and bring you favor

              May God’s Presence be lifted towards you and bring you peace.

In Jewish mysticism it is considered that every time we bless someone with deep intent, we draw spiritual light from heavenly realms into the world. This spiritual light, enhances goodness and brings positivity into the world.

From a psychological perspective giving people blessings, can be a way to create an atmosphere of compassion and increase the level of well-being of those who are giving the blessing as well as those who are receiving.

There is a certain power that rituals have and you might want to experiment adding these three ancient blessings to your weekly routine in some way and see what effect it has.