Friday, May 23, 2008

Over your head?

Kabbalah? We’re practical people. We relate to making a living, keeping the family happy and the pragmatic elements of being Jewish.

Mystical ideas are beyond us, mention spiritual realms, sefiros, Divine names and they simply fly over our head.

Today’s Lag Baomer, a day dedicated to celebrating one our nation’s greatest mystics. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, responsible for one of the most seminal Kabbalistic texts, the Zohar, died on this date.

He is the one who insisted that we celebrate the occasion each year. Since then, Lag Baomer is a fun-filled family field day, especially in Israel, where it’s essentially a national holiday.

If you been to Israel at this time of the year, you will have seen hundreds of bonfires dotting the landscape wherever you go. Burning pyres are certainly iconic of this festival.

The other icon (maybe lesser known) is a bow and arrow. You have to wonder why. Mystics and fire seem to gel, fire is unconfined by the shape and size of other physical entities. But, mystics and bows ‘n arrows? Sounds like a bad Shidduch!

I got to try my hand at archery a few Lag Baomers ago. While I tried to hit the bullseye, the defiant arrow insisted on landing lower than the target time after time.

That’s when the instructor stepped over and revealed the arrow’s secret: “Aim higher than the target- and you’ll hit it”.

Then and there, in the chilly dusk of an archery club, I got the secret of Lag Baomer. Mysticism might seem out of reach, but it doesn’t matter. Aim higher than you expect.

In fact, all of Judaism is about aiming higher than our goals. If we aim for mediocrity, we land up uninspired- and less than mediocre. When we aim for the impossible, we hit a healthy spiritual target.

Sometimes, we surprise ourselves and reach beyond the target too.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Round II

Important message from Israel’s Chief Rabbi: Due to unexpected circumstances, please note that Pesach actually begins this Sunday night!

If you think this message is far-fetched, it really happened. It was a long time ago, and the Chief Rabbi then was none other than Moshe himself.

What happened was a group of people volunteered to transport Yosef’s remains through the desert. When the first Pesach came around, they realized that they couldn’t participate in the Paschal lamb, because they were all impure.

This group went to complain to Moshe, who was stumped. Fortunately, he had 24/7 access to the Almighty, and received an answer for these people on the spot.

Had they never have asked, the Jewish nation would never have known that there’s a second chance at Pesach 30 days after the original for people who missed it.

This Sunday evening, we commemorate “Pesach Sheini”, the second Pesach, by eating some Matzah.

It is a beautiful time, with a powerful set of messages:
  1. Judaism always offers a person another chance, regardless of why they missed it the first time around.
  2. Never feel embarrassed to ask for a second chance- if you don’t ask; you don’t get.
  3. Your awkward situation may land up benefiting the whole community.
  4. When you need to play catch-up, Hashem helps you do a seven-day course in 24 hours.

Enjoy round II!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

3D Judaism

3D movies seem to be making a comeback. People seem to enjoy donning those paper glasses and ducking projectiles that appear to fly out at them.

No doubt, 3D makes an experience all the more real.

Jewish movie production seems to lag somewhat. We don’t have too many Torah-education blockbusters; certainly none in 3D.

What we do have, though, is a formula for 3D Judaism without the silver screen. It was introduced 2000 years ago, by Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi (and we’ve just read it this week in the 2nd chapter of Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers).

He explains: “Consider three things and you’ll never sin.” He does list three factors to consider, but there’s a cryptic message in this sentence- before you get to the list.

Judaism is clearly a spiritual discipline, designed to bring us closer to G-d.

There are those who feel that the best way to progress spiritually is to see the world in 1 Dimension.
There is G-d & spirituality and nothing else counts. They argue that, if you want to grow spiritually, you’ll have to lose touch with the world and focus all your energies on study, prayer and meditation.

Others see the process in 2D. On the one hand, there’s spirituality, Torah and mitzvos. On the other, there’s “real life”. They’ll tell you that you need to find the balance between developing your soul, and making a success of your life. You can’t do both at once, so you’ll need to allocate time and energy for each.

Torah teaches us to see a third dimension. Yes, there’s a spiritual paradigm (we go there when we’re at Shul or engaged in a Mitzvah). There is also a physical reality, mutually exclusive to that spiritual realm.

Then there is G-d. He is neither physical, nor spiritual. That means that He can be accessed through physical action, just as through spiritual meditation.

Torah says that you don’t have to wait until you’re at Shul to engage G-d or develop your soul. You can, and must, find that connection at work, during leisure time, in your personal relationships.

3D Judaism is when you unveil the essential bond between everything in your life and it’s Source. It is when you recognize G-d as being up close and personal at all times, under all circumstances.

And, if He is that close, His blessings are too.