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Introspection

B”H

motzei Shabbos – after Shabbat

 Hasgacha peratis (divine guidance), is bestowed upon all human beings; yet, to the degree of awareness that is developed over time, some people may be less aware than others of H’Shem’s individual attention. Nevertheless, this awareness may be developed by all, by way of setting aside time for heshbon hanefesh (literally, an accounting of the soul). Daily reflection upon our thoughts, speech and actions should bring us towards a greater awareness of the consequences being brought into our lives as recompense.

The refinement of the soul, with the help of H’Shem, occurs through this constant focus on introspection, as one gains insight into the way our lives our being shaped by Him. In doing so, it is important to pay attention to the events in our lives, whether positive or negative, in order to begin to notice any patterns that could enlighten us as to how the tapestry of our lives is being woven from Above. In this manner, we may begin to “connect the dots,” so to speak, between our actions and the events in our lives. 

There is a connection between the blessings and curses (the positive and negative events in life) and G-d’s response to our obedience or lack thereof. “I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life ” (Deuteronomy 30:19, JPS 1917 Tanach). Therefore, when we remind ourselves of this connection, we may notice the consequences of our behavior, as well as our speech, and even our thoughts as well. H’Shem’s intent is to steer us in the right direction, despite our failures to live up to His expectations of us.

Clarion Call

B”H

The sanctification of our lives is predicated upon separation from sin (Leviticus 19:2). Predominantly, in the modern world, outside of religious spheres, the notion of sin is not part of the everyday mentality of the common person. A call to cease from sin, when made amongst the general population would in all likelihood fall upon deaf ears. The word, sin is simply not a part of most people’s vocabulary today. To the extent that it may be recognized, it is often relegated to the “other,” or reframed within the larger context of questions of morality, that are more theoretical than actual. Yet, Torah is clear, in regard to sanctifying oneself through becoming aware of what constitutes sin, and making a sincere effort to change one’s ways.

Therefore, other than sanctifying time and space, as mentioned previously, the main avodah (service to G-d) is the sanctification of our very lives. This is the question that religion aspires to address: how to transcend the mundane, in order to perfect oneself for the sake of pleasing G-d, who only wants the best for us. It is not enough to conform to the ethical norms of society; G-d’s standards are higher. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the L-RD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Sanctification

B”H

by Tzvi Schnee

“Thy way is in holiness [kedushah].”

– Psalm 77:14, JPS 1917 Tanach

Holiness has to do with sanctification. “G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified [KDSh] it” (Genesis 2:3). The root meaning of KDSh is to separate. Something that is sanctified is set apart for a holy purpose. In other words, sanctification places a holy status upon an individual or object, for the sake of a connection to G-d. Therefore, the person or object is elevated to a certain degree of holiness.

By way of example, mundane acts, such as eating are sanctified through a blessing said before a meal or snack. On the Sabbath, beginning on Friday evening, candles are lit, and blessings are said over wine and challah (a braided loaf of bread). In this manner, the day is further sanctified through those who remember (zachor) the day, and observe (shamor) the commandment to refrain from work on the Sabbath.

Furthermore, inasmuch that upon waking up every morning, prayers are recited, thanking G-d for preserving and restoring the soul, the day as well the person become consecrated (sanctified). Holiness is brought into the life of a person, by designating time and space as set aside for connecting with G-d.

The word for blessing is berachah, having as a root meaning, “to bend the knee,” or “to bring down.” In saying a blessing over food, for example, it is taught that there is an actual measure of kedushah (substance of holiness), brought down from Above; a sensitive individual may be aware of that kedushah.

A friend of mine mentioned, regarding Shabbos (the Sabbath) in Israel, that he could feel the kedushah in the air. When we direct our lives in a manner that acknowledges the Divine, we enhance the mundane, by eliciting blessings from Above. The prayers, traditions, and communal (as well as personal) places, where we worship, constitute the aspect of religion; whereas the blessings, and sense of kedushah (holiness) received, pertain to the quality of spirituality. These are two sides of the same coin.

soul connection

by Tzvi Schnee

Our very souls are connected to G-d. This is in accord with the teachings of chasidism, regarding the soul, whereby the highest level of the soul, the yechida, is directly attached to G-d. We are not entities, separated from G-d; except, when we sin: “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you” (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1917 Tanach). Even so, by way of teshuvah (repentance), we have the opportunity to restore our relationship with G-d.

Victor Frankl wrote that man’s conscience is connected to something greater than himself. This implies, as in the Chasidic model of the soul, that there is an in-built, permanent connection to G-d. Yet, it is understood, in regard to the conscience, that over time through sinful behavior, man’s conscience becomes dulled. This is an effect of the separation that occurs as a result of sin; it is as if to say, that sin damages the soul, resulting in a felt distance between us and G-d.

It is mentioned by chazal (the sages), that teshuvah (repentance) is the remedy for this particular sickness of the soul. Indeed, as mentioned in the Talmud, teshuvah was created even before G-d created the world (Nedarim 9b). In other words, He created the remedy before the sickness appeared, with the sin of Adam and Chava (Eve). “Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, saith the L-RD of hosts” (Malachi 3:7, JPS 1917 Tanach).

the First Commandment

B”H

The First Commandment:
from the perspective of Baal Halachos Gedolos –
a Jewish Sage, who lived in the 9th C. in Babylonia.

“I am the L-RD thy G-d, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” – Exodus 20:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

In the most common sense of the commandment, H’Shem’s first utterance at Sinai is understood as the commandment to believe in G-d. Yet, another view, expressed by the Baal Halachos Gedolos, predicates that the commandment is a declarative statement of factual significance.

In his view, the first commandment should be understood as more than a commandment to believe in G-d’s existence. Rather, it should be understood that belief in G-d is required, in order to accept the commandments as having been derived from a divine authority; without making this connection, morals become subject to relativity.

Therefore, it could be said that belief in G-d, within the context of the Revelation at Sinai, may provide an adequate response to the question of how to form values that will stand over time as consistent, universal, and edifying.

Without absolute values, the generations over time would loose their moral perspective, because of the nature of erosion over time. Even other edifices, built upon a secular understanding, such as political, philosophical, or ethical are subject to decay, as a result of the shifting sands of thought amongst mankind. For those, who acknowledge the Revelation at Sinai in earnst, we may say with Dovid HaMelech (King David):

“He is my rock and my salvation, My high tower, I shall not be greatly moved” (Psalm 62:3, JPS 1917 Tanach).

In the beginning

by Tzvi Schnee

In the beginning of my spiritual journey, I relocated from the East Coast to the Southwest. Along the way, I spent some time on Gabriola Island, British Columbia. I left behind me two jobs and a new budding (read: wilting) career. Now, I am transformed, through many defining moments, having taken upon myself the task of acquiring the image that more closely resembles who G-d would like me to be. The journey continues, and progressively brings me closer to G-d. In the ideal sense, this will only occur by staying on the derech (path). Yet, ultimately, I recognize that it is a long and arduous journey.