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Count the Omer and Grow Spiritually with Rabbi Rudin!

04/05/2021 02:16:37 PM

Apr5

 

The Mishna tells us that Torah study develops 48 spiritual superpowers!  Check out the daily quote about the middah (virtue) of the day and focus on developing that trait in your own journey!

Days 42-48

הַמַּחְכִּים אֶת רַבּוֹ, וְהַמְכַוֵּן אֶת שְׁמוּעָתוֹ, וְהָאוֹמֵר דָּבָר בְּשֵׁם אוֹמְרוֹ

Making one's teachers wiser, directing their learning and quoting one's sources correctly. 

All of the forty-nine attributes mentioned above need to be connected to the generations that came before us, to our parents, mentors, teachers.  It is the continuity of this story, this narrative, that brings Torah study to fruition as action and action into redemption.  The list concludes with a teaching from the Megilla.  

We know that the turning point in the story came when Esther tells the King's scribes that it was Mordechai who warned her of the plot on the king's life.  Years later, when the Jewish community is in grave danger, the King is reminded of the incident and this brings about the defeat of the wicked Haman and the triumph of Mordechai and Esther and ultimately the restoration of the Holy Temple and Jerusalem.  All from the simple act of reporting one's sources!  

We are not the first generation to devote ourselves to Torah and to the redemption of the world.  G-d willing, we will not be the last, although the day grows short and the work is long. But only the combined might, spirit, faith and wisdom of all the generations, connected by the lines of light of Torah can win the day at last in partnership with G-d. 

Days 37-41

מִתְיַשֵּׁב לִבּוֹ בְתַלְמוּדוֹ, שׁוֹאֵל וּמֵשִׁיב, שׁוֹמֵעַ וּמוֹסִיף, הַלּוֹמֵד עַל מְנָת לְלַמֵּד וְהַלּוֹמֵד עַל מְנָת לַעֲשׂוֹת

Reflecting deeply on studies, asking and answer to the point, listening and thus adding to one's knowledge, studying in order to teach, studying in order to act.

Torah study is not an academic endeavor.  It is the refiners fire that allows us to attain heights of spirituality and strength to enable us to achieve the holy purpose for which we have been created.  Flour does not winnow itself and bake itself into bread, nor does iron temper itself.  But Torah can winnow our spirits and help us remove the chaff of egoism and materialism from our character.  It can temper our souls to live deeper, higher, more consciously and more joyfully. 

Days 32-36

וְלֹא מֵגִיס לִבּוֹ בְתַלְמוּדוֹ, וְאֵינוֹ שָׂמֵחַ בְּהוֹרָאָה, נוֹשֵׂא בְעֹל עִם חֲבֵרוֹ

  מַכְרִיעוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת, מַעֲמִידוֹ עַל הָאֱמֶת, וּמַעֲמִידוֹ עַל הַשָּׁלוֹם

The aspirant to Torah is not coarse in study, nor are they joyful in rendering a decision; but rather, they help others bear their burden; gives them the benefit of the doubt, helps them arrive at the truth, helps them arrive at Shalom.

Torah is unique.  It does not fit into any category of study: not quite history, not quite legal analysis, not quite literature, not quite any other sort of study but something qualitatively different.  It is easy to describe Torah study as storytelling or anthropology or "folkways" but it isn't any of them.  Torah eludes category and definition.  Torah is a profound spiritual practice by which we become deeper, stronger, more conscious and more aware of ourselves and others- especially places of pain, vulnerability, need and yearning.  Torah may give us great knowledge and even great authority- but unless it is engaged in in a spirit of gentleness and respect, it is lost.  Above all else, Torah helps us relate to others with compassion; adding Shalom is the highest priority. If Torah is the face of G-d in our lives, let us make sure that that holy countenance has always a smile of welcome and kindness. 

Day 31

מִתְרַחֵק מִן הַכָּבוֹד

Stay Far From Honor

What?  What's wrong with a little honor?   The trouble with honor is that it's too rich for most of us.  Receiving praise, respect, honor is such a powerfully positive feeling that it is all too easy to seek it out and thus to be distracted or worse from our true purpose: to grow and attain.

Writer Norman Vincent Peale commented, "the trouble with most of us is that we'd rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism."  Of course, when we are honored by others we need to be gracious and appreciative. But at the same time, we need to remind ourselves that others' approval can be a double-edged sword.  What is offered to us as a kind tribute can become something that we seek out hungrily and constantly.

Perhaps that is why Judaism and other spiritual paths urge us to not take too great stock in what others think of us or say about us but rather to invest energy in developing a relationship with G-d.  This can be an invitation to deeply delve into prayer, meditation and reflection but it doesn't have to be.  On the simplest and perhaps the most important level, a relationship with G-d means focusing on choosing compassion, justice, truth and what we know to be our highest selves, rather than what we think will earn the approval of others.  

This is far easier to achieve than to describe -- but ultimately, people can see through the person who thrives on approval and respect.  True respect is earned, paradoxically, through not seeking respect but by living rigorously and uncompromisingly in the light of the truth.

 

Days 26-30

הָעוֹשֶׂה סְיָג לִדְבָרָיו

Consider carefully what you say.

אֵינוֹ מַחֲזִיק טוֹבָה לְעַצְמוֹ

Without pomposity

אָהוּב, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַמָּקוֹם, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַצְּדָקוֹת, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַמֵּישָׁרִים, אוֹהֵב אֶת הַתּוֹכָחוֹת

Beloved, G-d-loving, loving humanity, loving charity, loving uprightness, loving reproof

In this list of pious intentions there is a powerful and inspiring  theme.

What motivates self-improvement?   Striving without rest to become better than we are, more than we are.. weighing our actions, reactions, use of time, decisions and choices, setting our sights on learning, achieving, attaining... what kind of life of struggle have we assigned ourselves?

Ambition can take you only so far.  Delayed gratification, satisfaction, the fulfillment of personal goals... all of those things cannot possibly feed the flame.  Only one thing can.

Love.  

Love drives us upward and forward; the faith that by engaging in the struggle to become more, become greater we are somehow drawing closer to G-d, to the ultimate and transcendant. .  Not for any hope of personal benefit or ambition.  Love is sufficient unto love.  If by learning more, caring more, giving more, accepting rebuke and criticism, building ourselves, we can bring a bit more light, a little more fixing into this broken world, then any hardship is worth it.

This list of love and its tribulations I think is what powers Anne Frank's incredible insight:

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

 

Days 23-25

וּבְקַבָּלַת הַיִּסּוּרִין, הַמַּכִּיר אֶת מְקוֹמוֹ, וְהַשָּׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ

Acceptance of suffering, knowing one's place, celebrating one's purpose

The Talmud speaks about suffering often- no surprise, considering the many tragedies of our history.  Does suffering have meaning?  The Torah provides hints but is not definitive.  One thing is clear though: the Talmud tells that suffering can have purpose if we so choose.  The lessons of suffering can develop great empathy, great patience, teach what we can do without if we must and show us that ultimately our notions that we are in control of our lives are an illusion.  We are not the drivers of our destiny that we imagine and this leads us to humility.  

But just that fact does not make us helpless flotsam in life's tides.  We have a place- a set of skills, abilities and perspectives that our experiences and trials have given us and we have a purpose- something that needs doing that we alone can accomplish.  

Each morning there is a declaration: Adonai, the Neshama You have given within me is pure.  You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me.  

We have been molded, prepared, fashioned.  Like iron we ae hewn from the earth, smelted in the refining fires, beaten and tempered.  But unlike any other creation, we are given the supreme gift: free will to use our powers to discover and perform the task for which we were designed.  And that knowledge- that our presence here has supreme meaning- transforms all of the trials, travails and suffering into something elevated, transcendent and perfect.  Just as the tool in the hands of the creator never can comprehend the finished product that it creates, we do not know the ultimate purpose of our own lives.  But one thing we do know: When we are true to ourselves, our place and our purpose, we are in service to the most high and that consciousness brings us into Oneness with G-d. 

Days 21-22

ארך אפיים, לב טוב

Good Heartedness and Patience

Ah, the quality of having a good heart... how to acquire it when so often the opposite qualities seem to just spontaneously burst out?  The Mishna's advice?  If you want to acquire good heartedness, first acquire patience.  It is impatience that robs us of our freedom to respond from a place of self-awareness and to all too often speak or act out of pain, anger or disappointment.  How do we develop patience?  The Torah suggests a variety of approaches to relate to different temperaments.  One approach is to adopt stringencies like fast days or personal resolutions such as davening at certain hours, reading a certain number of Torah chapters, reciting a certain number of Psalms or other practices that require self-denial and discipline.  This will accustom us to saying "no" to our body and lower nature's impulses and enable us to act of freedom and not the compulsion to our impulses.  Another approach is to accustom ourselves to ask, "how will this help me achieve my goals," over the course of every day.  By making this a habit, pausing to ask yourself "how will this help me achieve my goals", you will be able to act thoughtfully rather than react thoughtlessly.  

Patience is the key to unlocking the heart.  The great Kabbalist Moshe De Cordovero in his classic, "Deborah's Palm Tree" reminds us that the Almighty sustains even the wicked, providing life and nurture to all.  If G-d can be patient and generous even with those who bring G-d pain by their choices, then surely we can extend patience to those we love and to ourselves. 

Days 16-20

Limiting consumerism, limiting worldly occupation, limiting self-indulgence, limiting leisure, limiting small talk, limiting amusement

בְּמִעוּט סְחוֹרָה, בְּמִעוּט דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ, בְּמִעוּט תַּעֲנוּג, בְּמִעוּט שֵׁינָה, בְּמִעוּט שִׂיחָה, בְּמִעוּט שְׂחוֹק, בְּאֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם,

Doing with less?  Deliberately spending less time and resources acquiring wealth?  Less time in front of the TV or computer?  Isn't that self-denial and doesn't that lead to a life of toil, frustration and misery?  

Except that it doesn't.  Our enhanced resources and abilities have opened possibilities that previous generations could only dream of.  But for all that, are we happier and more fulfilled?  The Midrash says: There are two things that make life worth living: creating something and caring for/taking responsibility for something.  

Creation and Caring.  Bringing something into being and knowing that we matter.  We hear with envy about the emotions of great artists who step away from a work that they have invested months in making with a feeling of awe and joy, gratitude that through them something beautiful and unique has come into being. That sense of fulfillment and holiness is not the purview of "gifted" individuals alone, but of every one of us. We are not told to deny ourselves the things that bring joy and meaning to life. Quite the opposite.  Those are the things that we should give the majority of our time to. We are told also to enjoy those things that bring us a degree of refreshment and relaxation- the "desserts" of life that our physical, emotional and mental natures require -without making those things our master.  Our strength is for greatness, for trials, for building and for sustaining- 

Days 13, 14, 15

Scripture, Mishna, Wisdom

As an educator, I learned that every curriculum was divided into two great sections: Content and Skills: learning "what" and learning "how to".  

The Torah's classic advice is the same:  Learn Content: the scriptures, the stories, the ancient narratives, the laws.  Learn Skills: the give and take of debate, reflection, argument, analysis.  The result?  Wisdom.

This is not a difficult or lofty goal.  Online, you can read the weekly Torah portion easily; even dividing it up into bite-size daily pieces.  The easiest to access is our friends at Chabad.org.  Simply go to the "learning and values" tab and click on weekly Torah portion.  Always read with Rashi, the classic 11th century commentary.  Sometimes the text seems difficult or hard to access- but stick with it!  With time comes clarity.

The second part, analysis and debate is more difficult.  Classes are the best for this: maybe even our Unlocking the Torah class online at Adath Shalom!  But second best is to explore the profound and yet very accessible teachings of Rabbi David Fohrman at AlephBeta.org.  There are many fabulous scholars and teachers in today's Torah world- but Rabbi Fohrman, one of the translators of the Artscroll Talmud, is unique.  Divided into five-minute mini-lessons as well as longer courses, AlephBeta is really introducing new depth into study.

Torah study is a lofty spiritual practice that comes down to a commitment to setting aside time: only 10 minutes a day to start- to learn.  I pray that you find it to be, as I have, an endless spring of spiritual joy, light and inspiration.   

 

Days 10, 11, 12

Purity, Service to the Wise, Loyalty to Friends

What does it mean to be pure of heart?  To never have doubts and inconsistencies?  To never falter or slip up or backslide or give way to one's faults?  Of course not.  Growth is never straight up, nor is progress steady. 

Today's quote: 

כי שבע יפול הצדיק וקם

For the righteous falls seven times but gets up each time.

-Mishlei/Proverbs 16

Service to Wisdom means a commitment to moral principles: it means having a code.  Loyalty means being true not "true to yourself"- for "being yourself" is really no more than going after your desires and appetites.  The point is not to "listen to your heart" as in your needs, desires, urges and imaginations but to be true to your vision of what you truly are in the highest sense.  In this age of moral relativism and not taking responsibility for our choices, it seems anachronistic to have a standard by which one lives and by which one measures one's own behavior.  But there can be no progress forward without a path and there is no path without looking beyond who you are right now and striving to be more.  Looking at the top of the mountain and expecting to attain it without effort, climbing and stumbling and always sticking to that path is folly.  

Visualize who you truly are in the highest, most moral, most integrity-infused sense.  Set times to evaluate yourself as you evolve into that vision.  Confront failures and falls without self-loathing but also without excuses and re-affirm your mission: to continue to climb in service to wisdom, in loyalty to your vision.  

 

Day 9

שמחה

Joy

Rabbi Nachman would say: A person must be always in a state of joy.  This is the central Mitzvah of the Torah.

-Likutei Mohoran

There is an ongoing debate in Torah study circles.   Where was Rabbi Nachman's source for saying that joy is the most important Mitzvah upon which everything else is based?  There are clear texts that command joy: Serve HaShem with joy (Psalms) and, Because you did not serve HaShem with joy, all of these evils will come upon you. (Deuteronomy), but how can joy be commanded?  How can any emotion be commanded?  

Maybe the situation is more nuanced.  The Talmud says, "G-d's presence only rests on someone who is filled with the joy of performing the mitzvot."  In other words, the mitzvah of joy is more a prescription than a demand.  So the real mitzvah is: do actions that will bring about joy.  

Is this the solution?  Find things that bring you joy and fill your life with those things.  The two parts to this spiritual super power: identifying the causes of joy in your life and nurturing those things are both supremely difficult.  But imagine a joy-infused life: what blessings we are capable of bringing to the world can only be accomplished if we are in a state of joy- never forget, says Rabbi Nachman, that we are always at the very beginning... 

Days 6, 7, 8

אימה, יראה, ענווה

Reverence, Awe and Humility

Awe and reverence are emotions associated with the ability to experience a sense of wonder.  Like gratitude and empathy, it is a quality that is difficult if not impossible to teach but which seems associated with the power to overcome self-obsession.  When we can pierce the membrane of ego, a whole world appears.  The Baal Shem Tov said: just as the tip of your pinky finger held over the eye can block you from seeing the most majestic vista, so can selfishness prevent you from experiencing G-d's presence.

Humility is reverence put into practice.  Realizing that the smallest matter that comes your way is worthy of your attention and care is the essence of humility.  When an opportunity appears to perform a Mitzvah: say a kind word, make a quick call, give tzedaka, join a minyan, fix, connect, know that the Creator of the Universe is sending you an invitation to make a tikkun, a redemptive act.  Who benefits from a tiny, anonymous act of kindness?  Everyone and everything.  Humility is acting on this truth.

הלל אומר: במקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

Hillel says: In a place where there are no upstanders, be the upstander.

-Pirkei Avot, 2

Day 5

Sichlut HaLev: Nothing hides from the heart

One of the greatest spiritual superpowers is the power of empathy.  Years ago, I happened upon an obscure book of Hasidic meditation that changed my life.  The book prescribed a set of visualizations: when you read a text or even hear about something that happened to someone else try this for even one minute:  Close your eyes and place yourself in that person's consciousness.  How is it to be that person?  What is their perspective?  How are they feeling and seeing the world? Be relentless for just a minute in really trying to enter that person's soul.  Practice will give you the ability to not only empathize more powerfully but will help put you in touch with your own inner world and enable you to connect with the inner world of others. 

Quote:

אַל תָּדִין אֶת חֲבֵרְךָ עַד שֶׁתַּגִּיעַ לִמְקוֹמוֹ

Hillel says: do not judge another until you have stood in their place. (Avot 2:4)

Commentary (Hasidic Masters): When you hear about another person's experience, it is a message that you should try to find the same thing, issue, problem, fault or struggle in yourself.  Only when you can fix yourself in that same area can you try to advise or guide another.

Days 3 and 4

Arichat Sfatayim: The Gift of Gab

Shammay said: הוה מקבל כל אדם בסבר פנים יפות. Greet and receive every person you encounter with a warm greeting and pleasant countenance.  The Torah teaches that no meeting, even passing someone on the street, is random: each is an opportunity to learn, connect, create holiness.  Develop the ability to make "small talk" conversation with everyone.  It's a skill not easy to acquire but infinitely rewarding. 

Binat HaLev: The power of intuition

We all know stories of people who suddenly get a sense and just know that something needs to be done or has happened.  This power of intuition is essential in developing spiritualy. How do we acquire it?  No need: it lives in you already.  To activate it, you need one thing: time to connect with it, to listen to your heart. Today's teaching:

שִׁמְעוֹן בְּנוֹ אוֹמֵר, כָּל יָמַי גָּדַלְתִּי בֵין הַחֲכָמִים, וְלֹא מָצָאתִי לַגּוּף טוֹב אֶלָּא שְׁתִיקָה.

Shimon, son of Rabban Gamliel says, "I grew up with the sages all my life and have always found the best thing for health is: silence."

Find some quiet time each day, each hour, and go within yourself to listen, take stock, find out how you're really feeling and why. This is listening to your heart.  When you do this, then intuition will awaken within you and you will know the things that you need to know.

Day 2: Shemiat Ozen: Mindfulness- focus on being truly present.

שמע ישראל, ה׳ אלוקינו, א׳ אחד:  say Shema when you rise and when you retire; focus on hearing G-d's voice speaking to you through the events of your day.

Day I: Talmud- Make a concrete goal of learning something meaningful every day.

איזהו חכם? הלומד מכל אדם

Who is wise?  The one who learns every person they meet.

-Ben Zoma, Mishna Avot

 

3/29/21

Wed, October 20 2021 14 Cheshvan 5782