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Archive for Agost de 2018

Recently I learned about a convention of redheads in Israel at the aptly named Kibbutz Gezer (Kibbutz Carrot). 200 redheads converged for a weekend of activities and events for redheaded Israelis. Over 900 wanted to come they had to limit number to 200. only 1% of the Jewish population is redheaded. I can just imagine the feeling of being like everyone else, having nothing that distinguish them from the rest of the crowd.

In our Torah portion this week we read a plethora of laws stretching from the mundane to the most central principles of the Torah and in among them, a law all about individuality and its importance. The parashah contains the rule forbidding us from ploughing our fields with an ox and a donkey together. Most interpreters understand this law as being about preventing animal cruelty. The ox and the donkey have different strengths and to require them to plough together would be cruel and inflict pain and suffering on them both. But Rabbi Artson suggests a different perspective. He says that it is teaching us about the importance of being who we are, of embracing our individuality and celebrating what makes us unique. He writes: to harness them together would mean that “one animal would constantly feel pressured to adopt the standards of the other,” (Bedside Torah pg. 323) rather than be true to who they are in their individuality.

In our world, we believe that there is a cult of individuality, that we are all taking selfies, posting on Facebook, sending tweets, letting people know who we are and in the process demonstrating the ways we are different. But sometimes this gives a false sense of celebrating difference because if we look closely at the Facebook pages, the selfies, so much of it is about being the same; conforming to the norms around us and being like everyone else. There was a wonderful video doing the rounds on Youtube where a father filmed his daughter, unbeknownst to her, taking a series of selfies, trying to get her selfie pout exactly right. I am sure she only sent out the best selfie and deleted the rest. These moments which appear to be spontaneous are often far from it and instead of reflecting who we are, it shows who we are when we are trying to be like everyone else. I heard someone comment the other day that as much as instagram is supposed to be casual, un-posed photos, how often do we see an instagram shot with someone’s mouth full or their eyes closed and all the other mistakes we would expect in photos which are spontaneous? We harbor a false sense that we embrace difference when in fact much of social media has instead provided us with more means of showing how we are all the same, leaving very little room for individuality.

Our parasha this week reminds us of how important it is to embrace who we are; our differences and our uniqueness and to celebrate those parts of us as well. It can be difficult to be outside the norm but God created each of us to be someone special in the world and if we take someone else’s path then we are not becoming who can be. May we all find our way and celebrate who we are.

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What does forgiveness mean for you? Since very early age the term “forgiveness” becomes part of our daily vocabulary, but we ignore its real and deep meaning. It is a term that we use so many times that somehow it has lost its value, in an every day conversation as in a very traumatic moment.

When we talk about forgiveness usually we think it is something we do towards others. We forgive others who have done us wrong. While this is true, it is also true that forgiveness is also a gift to ourselves. Forgiving is a personal choice and nobody can force us to do it. On the other when we do not forgive the bitterness and the resentment grow inside us as well as the damage these type of feelings cause.

Over the years I have realized that people have a preconception about forgiveness and that’s why they can’t forgive and let go.

So,… what forgiveness is not?

First of all forgiveness is not amnesia. We cannot forget the pain that we felt and that produced changes in our lives, leaving scars on our skins.

Forgiving is not to downplay the consequences nor the pain. We cannot and should not minimize something important for us because it has impacted our lives and  created deep feelings. It is only up to us to evaluate all this.

Forgiving is not about finding excuses to justify the perpetrator’s behavior.

Forgiving is not about taking away the perpetrator’s responsibility. Just the opposite, if in order to forgive that person we do not acknowledge his or her responsibility, we are lying to ourselves.

On the other hand, when we learn to forgive and let go, we open ourselves to growth and reality as it is, even if we don’t like it. We take ownership of our own feelings and behaviors. Therefore, acceptance is about acknowledging that we got hurt, that we need to take responsibility of ourselves and we need to set boundaries for others.

This is not to say that we have to blame ourselves. Despite our actions the perpetrator is still responsible for his or her own actions. We should not blame the circumstances or our luck or fate either, because the perpetrator still is to be hold accountable. Similarly we cannot force the other person to accept our forgiveness

          Why forgiving is important?

Usually we believe that forgiving is about other people. We do it for others, but this is not necessarily true. It is possible that the perpetrator who hurt us feels guilty or may suffer because we have put distance physically and / or emotionally, but that may not be necessarily the case. Frequently the perpetrator does not care how we feel or felt, the consequences of his or her actions. Sometimes that person does not even know us, lives far away or is even dead.

Certainly we forgive others, but we also forgive ourselves. When we do not forgive ourselves we allow the hate, the revenge, the rejection, the pain, the bitterness to rob us from our energy. Those feelings take control over us, destroy us internally and take away any peace.

We know that when we do not let go our health suffers the consequences like high blood pressure, headache, sour stomach etc.

What happens with us when we forgive? Imagine that you are carrying a heavy bag on your shoulders. Every time someone hurts you or makes you feel pain and you feel bitter and vengeful the only thing you are doing is storing all those negative feelings tin that bag and they keep growing heavier with your tears and your pain.

Those feelings are like heavy rocks that not only increase in number every time something hurtful happens to you and when you experience more bitterness and resentment but they also multiply themselves every time you think or talk about what happened to you or what you wish to do to those who hurt you.

Can you imagine how heavy is that bag? How do you feel having to carry it? What about all those things you wanted to do but carrying the bag is preventing you to do? Every time we forgive we clean that bag or we prevent to accumulate more negative emotional charge. The lighter the bag, the more energy we will have to enjoy the present, to focus on ourselves and our well-being and to experience harmony looking towards the future and desire to grow, to love and to share.

While we do not forgive we are still linked to those who hurt us and we spent a big junk of our time in the past because are feelings and emotions are still spinning around that person or event. Therefore, on top of the pain it caused in our lives now we have giving our present time, a waste of time that we spend suffering.

By forgiving we free ourselves and we make ourselves a wonderful gift. If so, the, why is it so difficult for us to forgive? There are different reasons that come to play like a low self-esteem, frequently cloaked as pride. Other times it is the fear to get hurt again or the pain that we have not been able to heal and that generally hides behind bitterness or the resentment that feeds our pain regardless of the time.

          Forgiving ourselves

We all do mistakes; sometimes big ones, sometimes small ones. We all remember a time when we did something or we failed with important consequences for our lives and we regretted them unable to do anything else other than blaming ourselves.

Sometimes we are aware of that self-blame. Although frequently that’s not the case and we have repressed that feeling because it is difficult for us to deal with it. We may feel guilty, ashamed or still we feel hurt, but we do not know what to do with it.

We cannot change the past. Then what’s left? Forgiving ourselves. Similarly to forgiving others, forgiving ourselves is not an act but a process that takes time. How long? It depends on each individual, circumstances, the stage in our lives, but it is worth.

          What can you do?

Begin asking yourself if you ready to forgive others and yourself. Why do you want to do it? What do you expect from it? How do think your life will change? How do you expect feeling?

Commit to yourself, preferably on writing.

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In this week’s parashah, Moses instructs the Israelites on some additional commandments they need to observe. In chapter 17, we find a few rules pertaining to the appointment of a king. One of those rules reads; “When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll approved by the levitical priests. It shall remain with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to revere Adonai his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws (Deuteronomy. 17:18-19)”.

One of the messages from this text is that it is incumbent on the king to personally ensure that he has his own copy of the Torah which must remain with him at all times, and that he should study it constantly. A question that arises from this, is why is it so important that the king has his own copy of the Torah, which has to be in his possession at all times? The reality today is that we don’t have to search too hard to find those in positions of leadership and power abiding by one set of rules, and expecting others to live by another set of rules.

It is for this reason that we find the commandment quoted above in the Torah. Each king was not only to possess two Torah scrolls, but actually to keep one with himself at all times. Every place a king went (except for those places deemed to be unclean), the Torah went with him as well. We could certainly argue that the role of a king (in biblical times in any case) was one of great importance which entailed many responsibilities and carried some perks or entitlements. But no matter what perks the king was entitled to, how he was to behave always centered around abiding by the same rules and regulations that everyone else had to. The rules and teachings applied to everyone, not everyone else. Ensuring that he had a copy of the Torah with him at all times served as a constant reminder of this. Even a king was not above the law.

It’s not just our leaders and rulers that are sometimes guilty of living by a different set of rules to others. How often do we tell others not to lie, and then when someone phones for us, we whisper to those same people; “tell them I’m not in”? Why is it okay to ask people to do something we ourselves aren’t willing or bothered to do? It is this type of behavior that the Torah reminds us not to engage in, when we learn that a king should always have a copy of the Torah with him at all times. It wasn’t only about carrying around his own copy of the Torah for all to see, it was also about everyone seeing that the Torah played the same part in everyone’s life, whether you were the king or not.

Teaching others that they should live by this principle means that we should start by doing that ourselves first, and setting a precedent. You could liken it to carrying around your own copy of the Torah. The best type of leadership is by example, it shows that we understand and accept what’s required of others by practicing what we preach.

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Weeks before his death, in his closing speeches which form the book of Devarim, Moshe Rabbeinu has a continuous theme, found again in the opening words of this week’s parashah, Re’eh: “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse – blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God.” Unfortunately, life experience does not support fully Moshe. Our own Tanakh, in the Book of Job, questions whether there is causality between performance of mitzvot and being awarded with blessing. Too many of us, for thousands of years, have observed the opposite. The psalmist phrases it by saying that God’s ways and thoughts are not ours. The solution presented in Job is that “The Lord works in mysterious ways”, and therefore, we do not fully understand how blessings or curses manifest. Rabbinic sages extend this by hypothesizing that all the apparent injustices of this world are worked out in the next – the eternal life. Given our difficulty with believing there is absolute correlation between performance of mitzvot and blessing bestowed from beyond, we may understand Moshe’s words to be speaking about the matter of blessing and curse from a different perspective. Moshe, while wanting to create motivation for people to live a God-centred, Torah based, mitzvot observant life, also desires to teach a metalesson about the power we have each moment in our life. In other words, curses are not cast and blessings are not bestowed from beyond; rather, blessing and curse emanate from within through the choices we make and how they imprint in our consciousness. Indeed, it is the power of our mind that draws us closer to consciousness of the beyond that we call “God”. Performance of mitzvot as learned through Torah connects us to God; living a righteous life puts us, so to speak, in the groove.

The Torah of Moshe provides a fundamental way for one to feel blessing in life, a way further detailed by rabbis who followed him. One does not have to follow the Torah exactly as presented to us through the rabbinic tradition – with the panoply of rabbinic voices over thousands of years and dozens of cultural contexts, there is a vast range of understanding Torah. This freedom to engage with the One and expand how It can expressed is in itself a blessing. We can learn general principles of Torah, such as how there is correlation between life, good and blessing, and apply them to how we learn Torah and live mitzvot.

Ultimately, Moses implores us to live a mindful life, one of heightened perception. Each time we say a blessing is a moment to pause and to choose to act consciously. Each moment of life presents us with choices and how we take responsibility for the ones we make. Always reading these words of Moshe as we move from Tisha B’Av toward Rosh Hashanah, we recognize our choices may not always be the best and can lead to creating curses, and are grateful for our ability to do Teshuvah (repentance). We recognize the consequences of our actions, knowing we can always learn from our errors and, with proper repentance, get back on track. It is as we stray that we experience the curse – the sting in heart, mind and soul. As we return to center, balance and focus we feel the blessing in life. “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse…”

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One of the key phrases in this week’s Torah reading is an instruction from Moses to the Israelites to circumcise their hearts.

They are preparing themselves psychologically and spiritually to cross the River Jordan enter the Land of Israel and realize a dream. For us, this could be ancient wisdom about how to “be” in the world and how to manage success. Moses says: “Cut away (circumcise) the thickening around your heart and no longer be stiff-necked (overly proud or subborn).”

Let’s hear what our sages say about a heart circumcision:

Rashi, of 11th Century France, stated that there is a need to remove the things which close the heart so that the Words of God can enter the heart. Circumcising the heart means being aware and wary of desires that will lead us in the wrong direction in life, desires that cause a heaviness of heart, said Ibn Ezra, of 11th Century Spain. By following desires that lead to goodness, our hearts can be light. The

Rambam, writing in 13th Century Jerusalem, wrote that we need to be aware of what closes our heart and make an effort to open the heart. That would lead us to knowing Truth and helping those in need.

Sforno wrote that peeling off the foreskin of the heart is akin to removing the prejudices we have and Rabeinu Bahya said that circumcising the heart helps us reach our full potential.

Hasidic masters wrote that each person has a pure light in the heart, that is also described as a flowing spring of pure fresh water. This is our spiritual connection to inspiration and holiness. As we go through life, a hard crust develops around the heart and it is our task in life to constantly peel off that hardenss to reveal the light.

This Shabbat is the day before the New Moon and the beginning of the month of Elul. We prepare ourselves to enter a whole month of reflection and self-improvement leading up to Rosh ha-Shana, the Jewish New Year. It is a month of teshuvah, “repentance”, literally, return.

We peel away the hard crust around our heart, we explore the different desires of the heart and where they are leading us. We move from a closed heart to an open one, we remove the heaviness of the heart and return to be in touch with the pure light and lightness of the heart.

Wishing you a Shabbat shalom and meaningful month ahead.

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