Monday, January 22, 2007

In the dark

Last week's rolling blackouts across South Africa got many of us a little hot under the collar. It's frustrating to try work without power. It's more frustrating to try travel through intersections that are gnarled up because the traffic lights don't work.

What really got people fuming was the poor excuse offered by Eskom, the country's power supplier. Their contention was that growth in South Africa has progressed so rapidly, that they haven't yet created the infrastructure to deal with the country's energy needs.

What would they prefer? That the economy not grow? That we slowly slide into Third World status?

Every thinking person appreciates the nonsensical nature of this argument.

Unless, we are making it.

We often hear people complain about the load that their Jewish involvement places on them. They were originally happy to get involved in Jewish observance, but now find it tedious.

That's when people sometimes make the Eskomic error- instead of celebrating their growth, they start bemoaning their new energy tax. The next step could be to back-pedal and hope that less Jewish involvement might make life more manageable.

The answer is not to slide back spiritually, but to appreciate that growth needs investment.

Embrace progress, don't oppose it. It will illuminate your life.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Pharoah in Denial


Do you ever feel a twinge of idealism, a whisper of “I can do it”?

And, do you often find that small voice is drowned out by the cacophony of “no you can’t”?

“You’re too busy/ old/ tired/ stressed to do more than just survive”, your reality-check-system tells you.

“Focus on what you’ve got to do- earn a living, provide for your family, watch your health,” it continues, “One day, when things settle down, you can stop to meditate, to soar, to engage your spirit and live your dreams.”

We’ve all been given a tremendous resource- the Jewish soul. It is alive with possibility; it strains at the bit to transcend and transform. It whispers consistently that there are greater things we can achieve.

The soul’s optimism is cut short by the Voice of Reason, “Don’t waste your time with fantasies! This is the real world and you’re stuck in it, a hamster on a wheel. Nobody has escaped it and neither will you.”

This is life in Egypt.

“Let my people go” was not simply Moshe’s challenge to Pharaoh, it is the call of every Jewish soul.

Pharaoh was in denial: “I don’t know Hashem, and I will not let the People leave!” In Hebrew, the Torah emphasizes that he said, “I don’t know Havaye (the name spelled Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey). Pharaoh was prepared to acknowledge Elokim, the name of G-d that runs Nature. He accepted that humans can engage the Creator of the natural order. He refused to accept, however, that humans can tap into a supernatural reality, represented by Havaye.

His voice echoes in our minds still today. His is the voice that cajoles us into thinking we are stuck in the rat race like everyone else. Our inner Pharaoh leaves us in denial, believing that Hashem’s message for our spiritual liberation is fantasy.

Our challenge is to silence his cynicism, and listen to our inner voice. Our objective is to believe in our innate potential- and to realize it.

The journey out of Egypt begins with a single step.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Who's your boss?


Remember the story of the Jewish slaves in Egypt? Do you ever feel like you're slaving away?

We know that the Torah is not a history book, but a book of lessons. In fact, the first Chabad Rebbe recommended that we "live with the times" by analyzing the weekly Torah portion. Each week's story is the story of our lives- and usually perfectly timed.

Tomorrow's portion tells us how the Children of Israel became slaves in Egypt. Read a little closely, and you'll see that their main job was to build cities for Pharaoh. Even without the taskmasters, the lashes and the severe punishments, building cities for Pharaoh is not a job for a Jew. It's the antithesis of everything we stand for.

Jews were put on earth to build a home for G-d. He endowed us with special abilities, to transform the mundane world into a holy place.

Every Mitzvah that we do is a brick in that Divine structure. We become fulfilled each time we lay another spiritual brick.

Pharaoh is the Jew's nemesis. His kingdom is the whisper in our ear that life is all about the here and now; about cars and homes and salaries and designer labels. In his own words, Pharaoh announced to Moses: "I don't know G-d".

When we focus our energy solely on careers, money and prestife, we build Pharaoh-cities.

Ask yourself this question every once in the while: "Who is my boss? Do I invest my energies in realizing G-d's purpose for Creation, or do I work for Pharaoh?"

Are you ready to face another year?

Well, 2007 is upon us. For some it means new college courses, for others new jobs- and for most people more of the same.

After a good break, it's often a little difficult to get back into things. It was so relaxed and peaceful, we could do the things we enjoy. Now- back to the grindstone.

Give it a week and you'll hear people start complaining: "It feels like I was never away..."

How do you head back to work and not get bogged down?

Just the other day we read an important insight from the weekly Torah portion. When Jacob headed down to Egypt after discpvering that his long-lost son, Joseph, was there, it was a difficult move.

Jacob had lived in the serene, spiritual environment of Israel for two decades. Now, he had to migrate to Egypt, the land of restriction and spiritual darkness. He was that concerned about the move, that G-d had to reassure him it was ok to go.

So, before getting there, Jacob set a plan in motion that would protect him from being entrapped by Egypt. He sent his fourth son, Yehudah, to establish a Yeshivah.

With that, our forefather unveiled the secret of keeping your head above water: Before you get back into the rat race, set a time to learn Torah. Torah will empower you to overcome stress, boredom and the monotony of daily living.

So, before you get back into things, set up your personal "yeshivah". Commit to some regular Torah class(es) for 2007. It will add flavour to your year- and help you keep your head above water.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A matter of Perspective

I've just come across this article, it's an interesting perspective:

It's All a Matter of Perspective
Rabbi Shea Hecht, Chairman NCFJE

There are times that it's all a matter of perspective. Things that happen may
seem to be sending us one message, but with some analytical thinking we can see
through the fa├žade and recognize their true colors.

Over Chanukah UPS refused to deliver packages to Jews in the West Bank and
Golan Heights. Because of the violence and mayhem in the Middle East, to many
that would seem like sound judgment, the problem is that they felt perfectly
comfortable delivering packages to Muslims in Arab areas, even in those areas
that are run by terrorists.

In an article titled "Package Apartheid: UPS is Official Delivery Service of
the Jihad", Debbie Schlussel wrote that a friend told her that UPS told her it
does not deliver packages beyond the green line. Additionally, UPS would not
deliver even to parts of Israel that are within the "Green Line," such as the
Golan Heights.

When UPS was called to verify the facts a worker read the following
statement: UPS service is provided to and from most addresses within Israel and
the Palestinian Authority area, except for Jewish settlements in the West Bank,
a few remote areas in the Golan Heights, and the Southern Negev desert. He then
confirmed that though the above-mentioned Jewish areas were "undeliverable", one
could send a package to "Palestinian" areas of the West Bank, to terrorist
infested Ramallah and to Arab areas in the Golan Heights.

When asked for a reasonable explanation for this differentiation between the
Jewish and Muslim areas, the UPS worker said that packages could not be sent to
the Jewish areas "for security reasons. It's dangerous there." Since Palestinian
areas are well known for their anti-Western violence that reasoning is almost
laughable.

This revelation engendered quite a bit of anger towards UPS including a
proposed boycott of their services and the use of (German owned!) DHL instead,
with Ms. Schlussel going so far as to say that UPS stands for United Palestinian
Service.

However, a little perspective changes UPS's actions from negative to
positive. For the longest time Jews have been pleading for someone - anyone - to
acknowledge what we all know. Simply put, though they protest otherwise, the
Muslims are safe in their own little towns. It's the Jewish areas that are not
safe. It's the Jews who have the Kassams rained down on them daily, who are in
danger from the cowardly suicide bomber or deadly intruders onto their land and
property. There is no need to be upset at UPS because they are validating what
we all know is true - that the Jewish areas simply need more protection.

I think the story should be publicized, but only to prove our point. Jewish
areas are not protected. They are so unsafe that even UPS won't go there for
fear of sharing in the violence that is perpetrated on the Jews in those areas.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Saddam & Moshiach?

This is something really interesting:

As Jews, we believe emphatically that nothing happens by chance. The timing of every event is precise and fits the Divine master plan.

So, when the Iraqi courts chose to execute Saddam on the day before the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, it got me thinking.

There are a number of fasts scattered throughout the Jewish year. 10th Tevet is one of the more serious fasts. If it falls on a Friday, you still fast, even though you are normally forbidden from fasting just before Shabbos.

10th Tevet commemorates when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon's troops laid siege to Jerusalem. Seven months later, they destroyed Judaism's holiest site, the Temple. In a sense, the 10th of Tevet marks the beginning of that destruction and even of the subsequent destruction of the second Temple by the Romans over 400 years later. That's why it is an extra bad day on our calendar.

When Moshiach comes, each of the year's fasts will become holidays. Logically, the fast that represents the start of all the negativity is the first one that needs to go. (In fact, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explained this process at length on 10th Tevet 1991.)

How is the fast of Tevet "reversed"? Consider the following:

Saddam Hussein considered himself the Nebuchadnezzar's heir, sworn to complete the mission of destroying Israel.

"Nebuchadnezzar stirs in me everything relating to pre-Islamic ancient history.
And what is most important to me about Nebuchadnezzar is the link between the
Arabs' abilities and the liberation of Palestine. Nebuchadnezzar was, after all,
an Arab from Iraq, albeit ancient Iraq. … That is why whenever I remember
Nebuchadnezzar I like to remind the Arabs, Iraqis in particular, of their
historical responsibilities. It is a burden that should… spur them into action
because of their history." (Fuad Matar, Saddam Hussein: A Biographical and Ideological Account of His Leadership Style and Crisis Management)

In the late 1980s he promoted the Iraqi Arts Festival called "From Nebuchadnezzar to Saddam Hussein." He also had a replica of Nebuchadnezzar's war chariot built and had himself photographed standing in it. He ordered images of himself and Nebuchadnezzar beamed, side by side, into the night sky over Baghdad as part of a laser light show. And he spent millions rebuilding the ancient site of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar's capital city.

When Saddam attacked Kuwait in 1990, the Rebbe referred to an ancient Midrash that predicts how the "king of Persia" will attack an Arabic king and throw the world and Israel into confusion. Persia, Babylon, Iraq- are all really the same region. The Midrash concludes that the entire episode is a prologue to Moshiach.

So:
  • In Moshiach's time fast days become happy days,
  • It all begins with converting the 10th of Tevet (source of all negativity),
  • The 10th of Tevet is the day that Babylon rose up against Jerusalem,
  • Saddam saw himself as the scion of Nebuchadnezzar,
  • Saddam is executed the day before 10th Tevet and buried on the day itself!

Sounds like an important message from the "Big Boss"...