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Archive for Març de 2018

What do we get by blaming our partners? Nothing! That is exactly what we get. Some weeks ago, I wrote about how couples should discuss issues in order to grow. Thinking about that post, I realized that something was missing, something important. I forgot to mention a couple of words: Responsibility and Respect. So let me say something about them now.

In any relationship arguing is inevitable. Achieving the meeting of two minds which are sometimes so different, and trying to work together towards a common goal, is just difficult. Unfortunately, when we argue we tend to blame. Sometimes we say things like “… but you forgot to do what I asked”, “you are the one that makes me angry”, “You have a bad temper!”, “I answer you like this because you speak badly to me”, and all sort of variations you can imagine: “You always…” or “You never…”

With those words that we address to the person in front of us, the person we love and who loves us in return, we want to let them know that we are unhappy, but even worse, we blame them for our behavior and feelings. In other words, we make them responsible for our behavior, our words and our actions. Then we close the matter, leaving our partner with the duty to clean up the mess. We have washed our hands, we have unloaded on our partners not only the guilt but also our emotions, while we don’t take responsibility, or the possibility for change and growth.

In all fairness, we need to let our partners know when we are upset or dissatisfied. However, this is possible only when we own our failures and shortcomings, and if we are willing to work on them. In other words, we first need to take responsibility for our actions and words, and only then we can tell our partners what we wish, want or expect.

The reality is totally different. In our quick blaming we want our partner to change first and only then we will change. What I am proposing to you here is exactly the opposite. First we need to take responsibility for our own words and actions, while our partners take responsibility for their own words and actions. Clearly, this is possible only when both partners act with the same level of responsibility. Otherwise the risk is that only one of the partners gives way and changes for the sake of the relationship until reaching the point of burn out. Instead of expecting our partner to change in order for us to soften our position, let’s think that most probably we have contributed with our words and actions to upset our partner, and therefore we have our own issues to address.

As humans, we approach all our interactions with expectations: from tasting a new ice cream or driving a new car, to sharing our life with our partner. If our expectations are not met, then we feel frustrated and that’s the key element.

Have we ever thought our partner is less expressive than we would like? Or that our partner did not specifically say what we wanted to hear at that particular moment? Or that our partner is not willing to have sex? For sure! It has happened to all of us. The real difficulty begins when we stop seeing the good things our partners have to offer to us and we turn them into the enemy, or we put our needs on the back burner and sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the relationship in order to stay together.

My partner should…, have to…, must…,” “I deserve…” How long is this list of things that our partners should be doing according to our demands and expectations? If we are not aware of ourselves, it can be a very long list.

A successful relationship is one in which we choose every day to be with our partners. The decision does not end when we chose to move together or to share our lives. It is a choice that happens every day and only to the extent that we understand our partners will not be able to satisfy every one of our needs and expectations because we are different, and our partners offers us what they can and no more. We need to decide if we are OK with what we get from our partners, even when what we get is different from what we expected at the beginning of the relationship. This is why I think it is a daily choice. Let me point out here that I am not referring to big issues like cheating, but to small daily arguments that gradually have the potential to undermine the relationship.

The success in our relationships depends to a large extent on the quality of the space that we create and share with our partners. To the extent that we are willing to respect them as an integral individual and we don’t argue every single time they meet or do not meet our expectations, the relationship will continue. If what we receive from our partners is good to the point of giving up our expectations, then it will be worth it to be with them. It is our choice, and every time we choose, we lose something but we also gain something else, hopefully something better.

Being in a relationship is about two partners being members of the same team. The well-being of one partner will affect the well being of the other. Winning an argument is pointless because it leaves the other defeated and both partners will end up losing. However, if we take care of our well-being first rather than expect a change in our partners, we are acting out of love taking care or our partners needs first. This only happens when we transcend our egos, even for a short time and when we remember that what we give is what we receive. This is what we call mature love.

If we are all connected, even the more so with the person we love and with whom we have decide to share our lives. Being in a relationship is something wonderful and exciting. Take your responsibility in the relationship, walk along with your partner and argue together not against each other.

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We go through our daily routines very often not thinking about the implications or greater meaning of those particular actions or moments, more than likely because those moments are simply mundane repetitions of actions we have done countless times before. Rituals are put in place to make sure that a particular meaningful or transformative moment does not pass without being marked in some way. Whether they are lighting candles on Shabbat or a birthday, apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah or champagne on New Years, there are certain things that we do that transform a normal moment into a momentous one.

The danger however is to emphasize the ritual, and not what is being transformed. A glass of champagne is just a glass, regardless if you drink it in June or December. Yet, it becomes special only when it is connected with New Years Eve. A birthday cake is just a cake unless it is on or around your birthday.

This week, in Parashat Tzav, we read about the inauguration of the Cohanim, the priests who will officiate at the Mishkan, the tabernacle which will become the place of centralised worship for the Israelites. The Bible goes to great detail about the service, what oils to use, what garments, how many times to wash and so on. The question then is what is so significant that requires this level of detail and pageantry? We already knew that Aaron and his sons were going to be invested as the officiates at the Mishkan. What then is the symbolism of this event? Surely it must be more than to confirm something we already knew?

Perhaps, it was to confirm something a bit more subtle, yet exceedingly more complex. The nature of our relationship with God up to that point had been one sided. God performed miracles and we benefited. Now, the nature of that relationship is fundamentally changing. The covenant is being fully implemented and a two way relationship is being established. Now, we are offering to God sacrifices and in turn we are expecting God’s presence and protection. This fundamental change is what is being marked by the elaborate inauguration rituals, not simply a new job for Aaron and his sons.

I pray that we take the time to mark those moments in our lives that are meaningful and not simply let them pass by. Whether they be joyous or mourning, take the time to contemplate each moment as important.

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This week’s Torah reading is about the Children of Israel building a sanctuary in the desert. It begins with stating the commandment that the seventh day is a day of rest, a day of holiness.

It’s interesting that the work of building the temple begins with a day of rest, and there is a deep teaching here. Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn was quoted saying that one of the keys to her success was having rest time and day-dreaming, when novel ideas would come to her. Our Torah portion hints at this deep truth by juxtaposing the mammoth task of building the mishkan sanctuary, to having a day of rest each week.

In the kabbalah, there is a description of how the creation took place. Before anything emanated from the Infinite potential, God did a tsimtsum, an “ingathering”. The Infinite light was drawn in so as to make a space for the creation to occur. On a human level, when we want to create something, first we need to make space for that creativity to take place, we need to do a tsimtsum: it might be clearing our desk or making space in our diary: tsimtsum is the first part of the creative process.

Next, the Torah describes the donations that poured in from each of the Children of Israel for the building of the sanctuary. There were no forced donations, people were instructed to donate from the “generosity of the heart”. And there were more than enough donations. It was significant that the sanctuary was built through donations from the heart, the temple was built with love. From a symbolic perspective, when we build or create something in our lives, we are invited to gather resources from our surroundings too – learning from others, receiving help from many directions. Our sages, in Pirkei Avot state that “a wise person is one who learns from all people”. Our creative process does not stand alone in a vacuum, we receive from others in so many ways. We can sometimes forget to reach out but this week the Torah reminds us we are not alone, and points to the importance of community.

The next step, once there was Shabbat/rest and the heart-felt resources were obtained, a chief artisan needed to be found, that was Betzlel. The Torah states Betzalel had Wisdom (Chochmah), Insight (Binah) and Knowledge (Da’at). Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of British Palestine in the early 19th Century, explained these 3 traits as: having a global vision of the project; adding sacred beauty to the work at hand; and attending to detail.

What can we receive from these teachings? Can we make space for time to replenish ourselves, day-dream creatively? Can we open to the resources around us? Can we learn from others? And, being the artisans of our own lives, can we fashion a life with Wisdom, Insight and Knowledge?

May we all be blessed to build a sanctuary in our hearts, and may we all enjoy the new sanctuary in our own synagogue.

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Parashah Ki Tisa is a broad and deep Parashah, which includes the greatest act of apostasy in our people’s history. Forty days have passed since the Jewish people have stood at Sinai. During this time, Moses has continued to commune with God on top of the mountain, receiving instructions for the building of the Tabernacle and the service of the priests. Fearing Moses will not return, the people beg Aaron to “make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt – we do not know what has happened to him.” Aaron placates the people and helps them build the Golden Calf; God reflects with anger that the people should be destroyed; Moses in anger smashes the tablets of the commandments; and the Levites allied with Moses kill 3,000 of the perpetrators. From this time forward, the Golden Calf becomes the paradigm of Jewish failure to respond to God’s call upon us. The story is problematic not just for that failure but also for the models of leadership displayed.

Aaron placates the disobedient people, Moses gets angry and God gets angry. The tradition defends and explains each of their actions. The reason Aaron, noted as the great peacemaker, has built the calf is because he feared the anger of the mob and was merely saving his and others’ lives, until Moses could return and help deal with the problem. Moses, while angry, smashed the tablets to demonstrate to the people that no thing – not a calf, not even the tablets of stone – should be worshipped. God’s anger is to teach a lesson that there are actions so beyond the pale of acceptability that righteous indignation is required. Indeed, by the end of the parashah, some resolution has ensued, as Moses climbs the mountain a second time, receives the second set of tablets and a revelation of God’s goodness and compassion. Nevertheless, throughout the tradition we see tension between righteous anger and punishment on the one hand and forgiveness and compassion on the other.

The haftarah, telling of the conflict between the prophet Elijah and the idolatrous prophets loyal to King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, demonstrates this tension. The way the rabbis cut and paste the haftarah selection from the actual story in the Tanakh indicates their discomfort with the extent to which righteous anger can go. The haftarah concludes with the stirring words recited at the end of Yom Kippur, “the LORD alone is God”, a verse suggesting compassion and forgiveness. However, the verses that immediately follow in the Bible (excluded by the rabbis from the haftarah reading) read, “Then Elijah said to the people, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal, let not a single one of them get away.’ They seized them, and Elijah took them down the Wadi Kishon and slaughtered him there.” Already, 2,000 years ago our sages understood the risk of religious zeal, placing limitations on righteous anger that could lead to killing in the name of God. The questions raised in this week’s reading are more pertinent than ever: how does one know the will of God, how does one know which actions are beyond the pale, how far should righteous anger go in response to the intolerable, what killing can be just? What role do forgiveness and compassion play in God’s universe? Both the Torah and haftarah readings challenge us to be loyal to God: the ongoing question is how.

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