reflections: The Path of Life

B”H

the path of life

“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths.”

– Proverbs 3:6 , JPS 1917 Tanach

If the path of life seems broad to the individual, who deems that he is freely given the reins of his life, to think, feel, and choose as he would like, a second thought is required. In fact, are not most of us more likely to think that we are free, because there is such a vast array of choices to choose from in life? Yet, if we reflect on our choices, we may find that we are not free at all. Rather, we are subject to the influence of others in ways that we may not even recognise. It is often our peers, who influence us during our childhood years, perhaps, even more so than our family, depending on the circumstances. Even so, if we look closely at our own character, we will invariably have to admit the similarities to our parents.

In families where the reins were kept loose from an early age, the world may appear to be an amusement park; yet, there may be no rational basis in our early years, in regard to the formation of a worldview; hence, we are shaped by our peers, as well as our own rebellion from whatever family values, we feel may have been imposed upon us. If our teenage spirit is not reined in by a balanced perspective of life, regarding some amount of self discipline and self control, then we are subject to follow the unbridled dispositions of our heart.

Not that I mean to make a sweeping generalisation; yet, this seems be the norm, unless brought up in a more traditional home, wherein, religious, ethical, or academic standards were clearly demonstrated and inculcated. These are my thoughts, encapsulating my limited perspective, on the issue of personal identity, having to find my own, after partaking of the smorgasbord of life, without carefully considering the ramifications of my appetite.

My standard is now grounded in the wisdom of G-d, rather than the shifting sands of my emotions, inclinations, and worldly perspective. Rather than a leaf, being blown in the wind, I have grown roots into the rich heritage of my belief and practice. Reishis chochma yiras H’Shem – the beginning of wisdom is fear of the L-RD (Psalm 111:10). In what will continue to be a lifelong attempt to walk a fine line down the road of life, I try to foster a balanced perspective, based on the little that I understand, from gleaning the guidelines set before me, within the pages of the original blueprint of the world.

This blueprint is found within the pages of what may amount to the most popular self-improvement book, that surprisingly enough, can never be found on the shelf where all of the other self-help books are located. That is because, the book that I am referring to can not actually be categorized as a self-help book at all; rather, it is a book wherein one may improve his or her life with the help of G-d. With the inspiration of the words from this book, along with the authoritative words of those who have studied this book more than me, my roots continue to bring spiritual nourishment to my soul, strengthening my resolve to follow the derech (path) set before me.

“The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”

– Proverbs 4:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

reflections: Vision

https://unsplash.com/@bamagal

B”H

“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

– Proverbs 29:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

A greater vision, somewhere upon the horizon, waits for realisation to take hold in our hearts; in order to see beyond, reach past, and fly over this wilderness, hope must take root in our souls. Yet, even without hope, “Surely the L-RD’S mercies are not consumed, surely His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23, JPS 1917 Tanach). G-d’s faithfulness towards us, reveals the promise of a new day. “The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18, JPS).

We are welcome to board this ship to a brighter tomorrow; so, let’s prepare ourselves for the journey. Rambunctious disregard of G-d’s words will only lead us further astray; the aseret hadibrot (ten utterances) are meant to resonate within our being, in like manner that they were received at Sinai. “If the L-RD delight in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it unto us—a land which floweth with milk and honey” (Numbers 14:8). “For the L-RD taketh pleasure in His people; He adorneth the humble with salvation” (Psalm 149:4). “To-day, if ye would but hearken to His voice” (Psalm 95:7).

movie review: Three Identical Strangers

B”H

“The L-RD is slow to anger, and plenteous in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation.” – Numbers 14:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

The pivotal question to keep in mind, during the entirety of this documentary, has to do with the perennial Nature vs. Nurture controversy, that was a focal point of psychological research and debate, especially throughout the years the movie narrative covers, until more recently when it was decided that both nature and nurture influence the development of a human being, without giving superiority to one or the other.

Individual insights, in regard to the nature vs. nurture question, from persons interviewed in the documentary are shared at the end of the movie; certainly, their comments are reflective on the experience of the three brothers, separated at birth, for the purpose of studying this question. An experiment that was admitted to be unethical, in retrospect, by a research assistant, who participated in collecting information for ten months, during the years the experiment was in effect, between 1960 and 1980.

As another person, who was a personal assistant of the psychiatrist, who carried out the twins study, explains at the end of Three Identical Strangers, psychology in the 1950’s and 60’s was a blossoming science, held in much regard, because of its potential to aid in better understanding human beings; yet, this does not take into account the potential negative ramifications upon the lives of the human beings that are being studied. The documentary cleverly reveals, midway into a movie that seems to celebrate the ongoing joy of the triplets reunion, how there was another facet of the story that speaks of the darker side of human nature.

All three triplets exhibited disturbing behaviors in their respective cribs, after being adopted by three different families. This is attributed to the separation anxiety that they must have felt being separated from each other at such an early age. Each triplet was placed in a home environment different from the other two, inclusive of socioeconomic differences and differing parenting styles. The intent as disclosed by the research assistant was to determine the influence of parenting styles.

This seems to be the focus of the study, to gain an understanding of nature, predetermined genetic character traits, vs. nurture, in the form of parental upbringing and family environment. Yet, as the documentary follows the persistence of all those concerned, as well as an investigative journalist, who covered the story at the time, this may only scratch the surface of the intent of the study; it seems that another factor may have been predisposition to mental illness.

Some of the insightful comments revealed at the end of the documentary appear to be in favor of the primacy of nurture, as well as the opportunity to overcome negative character traits through free will. Human beings may assess their own behavior, and make changes for the good. This position is implied in a stance derived from Torah, that negative qualities may be passed down for three to four generations; however, they can be changed by the continual efforts made by an individual, who seeks to change, regardless of the influence of genetic character traits (nature) or any observational learning that may have occurred in the family environment (nurture).

movie trailer

Path of Kindness

B”H

Our proficiency as human beings is ultimately limited in comparison to the artistic rendering of Creation by G-d. Yet, many artists over the ages, as well as more contemporary artists, even photographers, and graphic artists have made the attempt, and continue to make a concerted effort to capture the essence of G-d’s creative expression. Additionally, all of us created beings should endeavor to imitate and internalize the qualities of G-d, in respect of our character, especially the thirteen attributes of mercy.

“And the L-RD passed by before him, and proclaimed: ‘The L-RD, the L-RD, G-d, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”

– Exodus 34:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

By adhering to these attributes in our lives, the world will become a better place; personal changes, the ones shaped within ourselves, first influence the inner person, as well as one’s immediate surroundings, for example, family, friends, and community, before having an impact further outside that social and environmental milieu. The ripple effect, could permit even one act of kindness to make waves that effect others in ways that we may never know.

The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, mentioned in scripture, are part of the liturgy for the Holy Days, requesting G-d’s forgiveness, as well as His mercy upon us. However, the prayer of the Thirteen Attributes has been added to the daily services, being performed three times a day at the Western Wall, specifically, to combat the plague of the corona virus. This prayer is considered to be a segulah – a remedy in times of dire need. Incidentally, this prayer is traditionally only said at the time of a minyan – quorum of ten.

Yet, these actual characteristics of mercy may be reflected in everyone’s life who takes the time to make the effort to imitate G-d with respect to His qualities. This may be done through forgiveness of others, a calm forebearance towards those who we find hard to bear, and mercy towards those whom we may feel do not deserve to be shown kindness. When we forgive and forget other people’s wrongs, as well as perceived slights against our character, we permit change to occur in ourselves and others for the good. A bruised ego, set aside, makes for the potential to overlook other’s faults.

“It is the discretion of a man to be slow to anger, and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.”

– Proverbs 19:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

weekly reading: Sanctity

B”H

Shiur for parashas Tazria-Metzorah 5780

The Sanctity of Life
“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: if a woman be delivered, and bear a man child.”

– Leviticus 12:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to Torah, the miracle of life, from the beginning, is addressed within the framework of sanctification. That is, both the mother and the child are taken into consideration, in terms of their purificaion. Specifically, the mother as well as child are given a means to commemorate the birth. This is akin to a life cycle tradition. When a male is born, the mother’s temporary state of impurity is only for seven days; this permits her to be present on the eighth day for her son’s circumcision.

The parashas continues with the laws, in regard to tzarras, a skin affliction, often mistranslated as leprosy. The metzorah (person who contracts tzarras) is diagnosed and quarantined. Because the metzorah has contracted tzarras as a result of lashon hara (literally, evil speech), being isolated outside of the camp provides time for reflection upon the harm done to the recipient of his gossip. H’Shem willing, the metzorah will be able to return to society, as a result of his tikkun (rectification).

The concept appears within the framework of the sanctity required to approach H’Shem. Since H’Shem’s presence dwells within the mishkan (tabernacle) at the center of the camp, the metzorah is separated by way of not being permitted to be in the vicinity of the mishkan. Thus the sanctity of the camp is preserved; and, the metzorah is given the opportunity to do teshuvah (repentance), turning his heart back to Elokim (G-d).

daily contemplation: Spiritual Evolution

B”H

March 23, 2020

“It’s the end of the world as we know it.”

Michael Stipe, R.E.M.

The popular myth, floating around within the perimeter of the New Age Movement and elsewhere, based in part on the theology of Teilard de Chardin connotes the idea of a type of spiritual evolution. This gained ground in its primitive form with the pseudoscience of the 100th monkey theory.

In a nutshell, the hundredth monkey effect posits that their will be a shift in human consciousness that occurs, when a critical number of people reach a certain awareness of some spiritual truth. This realization is not passed to others in the usual way through word of mouth, books, or other forms of media, rather, from “mind to mind.” Unfortunately, this fantastic idea is a myth based on a misrepresented study of Macaque monkeys by Japanese scientists in 1952.

Teilard de Chardin’s theology centers on what is referred to as the Omega Point, wherein the biological evolution of the earth coincides with G-d’s plan for the Universe. Accordingly, the consciousness of man progresses with the evolution of the earth itself as part of one overall process. The end goal is when consciousness becomes divine, at a certain point in history – the Omega Point – when this occurs as a natural outgrowth of a type of quasi biological-spiritual evolution. This fits in well with New Age thinking, including Gaia (seeing the earth as a living being).

The truth of the matter is that Teilard de Chardin’s writings were initially viewed as heretical, by the Catholic church. Yet, now they have been accepted by many non traditional spiritual thinkers in belief and practice. Thus, this departure from Biblical truth continues to gain momentum amongst New Agers.

Therefore, it is especially important at this time, to clear off the smorgasboard of delights that taste delicious, yet have no substance, nor nutritional value. Nor, can they provide nourishment for the soul. Spiritual growth is dependent upon the individual effort of every person, in conjunction with G-d’s help, as He provides the true nourishment for the soul.

There is no indication given anywhere in the Bible, that everything will naturally progress to a higher level of reality for all inhabitants of the earth. Rather, we are all called to follow a distinct path of righteousness, as predicated by G-d’s commandments. There is no automatic plateau that humanity en masse will arrive at in the future. Rather, “The L-RD knoweth the days of them that are wholehearted; and their inheritance shall be forever” (Psalm 37:18, JPS 1917 Tanach).

daily reflection: Illumination

B”H

March 2, 2020

“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.”

– Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Only the purest of olive oil was sanctioned for use in the seven-branched menorah (candelabra) in the Sanctuary. The specifications given in Torah, concerning this requirement, point towards a teaching. Only the first droplets of oil from the olives could be used for the illumination of the menorah. By analogy, when our lives are under pressure, our best efforts are brought forth to meet the challenges designed for us from Above, for the sake of our spiritual growth.

daily reflection: Groundwork

B”H

March 1, 2020

Below the ground, a structure is rooted in the earth, whereby its stability is secured. The same is true with a more common, natural example, trees, whose roots provide nourishment as well as a secure attachment to the ground. In both cases, what we do not readily see, is the groundwork.

By analogy, the truths of a religious belief and practice are not visible to the eye that does not attempt to see more than what is on the surface. To perceive the underpinnings of belief and practice, the mind must inquire into the groundwork; otherwise, only a superficial understanding is gained.

Dependency on a religious structure, without personal inquiry, study, and observance will not suffice for an understanding that goes beyond the superficial. Only by delving into the details, by connecting to G-d on a daily basis, and inquiring into His ways, can a person be completely, nourished by the roots of religion.

daily contemplation: Spiritual Atunement

B”H

February 27, 2020

Tune in, if you will, to the nature of your being, notwithstanding the many bandwidths that may prevent you from clearly hearing your own. Make the effort, above all else, to guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23) against the noise and chatter of the outside world. For, only in the silence of the heart, can your spiritual tuning fork be heard as it rings.