Song of Peace
From Cantor Lee
Last year after my fourth graders learned through the story of Jacob and Esau that the Hebrew word, “Israel” means “to struggle with G-d” and that the Jewish people are called the “Children of Israel,” one of my students was quite perplexed. “Why would we want to have a name like that if it means we have to struggle? And why would G-d want us to struggle anyway?!” The brilliance of a fourth grader! This question is one that many adults have also asked me or Rabbi David over the years. With the fourth graders we had a lively discussion of what their daily struggles are such as bullies in school, sibling rivalry, too much homework etc. and they came to the conclusion that G-d doesn’t want us to struggle but actually helps us with our struggles.
When an adult asks this question or a related one such as “Why does G-d allow children or animals to suffer? ” I reply that the original plan did not include evil or suffering or struggles. However, the plan did include free will and that is where things went awry. G-d actually needs us to be co-creators with G-d and bring the world back to the original plan, a world of love and peace. Especially now with our beloved Israel having to defend herself, such a world seems to be a distant dream.
But the Jewish people are eternal optimists. As Rabbi David likes to say, we have been praying for peace for over two thousand years, three times a day. And in doing so, no matter what we have had to face, we have kept this notion of peace alive in our consciousness. This is actually where co-creation with G-d begins, in our consciousness. Each day I spend time in meditation and prayer sending waves of Love and Peace to the entire Middle East. There are many throughout the world doing the same, of all religions and cultures. There is much power with group prayer so I always set the intention that all our prayers will join together. Perhaps you will add your daily prayer as well. I hope so!
From Rabbi David aka The Reb
..so Jacob is about to meet his brother Esau who, he thinks, is about to act on some 20 years of harboring hatred and feelings of revenge. He is extremely worried about the safety of his large family, especially when he is told that his brother is coming to meet him with 400 soldiers. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a man comes and starts wrestling with him. Since Jacob is not one to shy away from a fight, especially since he did not draw first blood, he fights with the stranger for hours.
After a whole night of wrestling with Jacob and seeing that he is unable to overcome him, the stranger uses a divine power to severely injure Jacob’s thigh. Any other WWF wrestler would have quit. Not Jacob! He pins the man to the ground and refuses to let go. The man is pleading: “Let me go the sun is up!” Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you bless me!” The strange man change Jacob’s name to “Israel” because, he tells Jacob, “You have fought with G-D and man and you prevailed.” We the Jews are the sons and daughters of Israel, or simply, “Israel”.
What a bizarre story! Why would G-D send an angle to wrestle with Jacob? Why wrestling at night, in the dark? Why was the angel afraid to continue wrestling with Jacob in broad daylight? Why did he use his divine power to try to win the fight – an unfair use of his powers? And what kind of blessing is changing one’s name because he is a good wrestler?
No doubt this story can only be understood as a symbolic occurrence. Jacob’s story is our story. The Torah chose to show Jacob’s spiritual turbulence and frustrations with his constant life struggles through a wrestling allegory. It is a straight forward message to Jacob and to us. Our spiritual greatness will be achieved through struggle. But why? Changing our imperfect world into a peaceful world for all its inhabitants means wrestling and overcoming our lower nature (testosterone, I suppose)
It is G-D’s world and man’s nature. It is a Jewish task which has been going on for millennia here on earth. It is a destiny which was thrust upon our Father Jacob and upon us. Jacob and we did not choose to wrestle (he with an angel – we with violence and hatred) We hate wars and killing but if war is what it takes to overcome evil then so be it.
Jacob’s wrestling in the dark of night is a symbol of us, the Jewish people, carrying the Light of Justice, Compassion and Peace into our imperfect world of darkness. The angel asking Jacob to release him since it was almost daylight is a clear message to us to hold onto our Light of Peace through the long night of turmoil around the world which is gaining strength but will be defeated. It cannot survive in the bright daylight of our hearts.
I pray that that Israel’s endless struggle for peace in the Middle East will overcome the sea of hatred around it . May this war in Gaza brings Jacob’s Morning Light to Israel and it’s neighbors. May all realize the futility of hatred and the pointlessness of killing. May all nations join us, the Jewish people, in our wrestling match to truly make our world heaven on earth for all mankind.
While waiting at Barnes and Noble for a meeting , I had chance to peruse through the spirituality section. Wow, there were quite a number of books!! Leafing through several brought up the topic of gratitude including tips on how to develop a gratitude practice.
I follow the Jewish tradition of reciting the Hebrew prayer, Modah Ani (Modeh Ani for a male) first thing in the morning. It is actually a prayer that gives thanks for having our soul returned to us. I love the way the Hebrew words sound and go throughout the day just singing the three words Modah Ani L’fanecha – “I give thanks before You,” as part of my personal gratitude practice. At night before I go to sleep I think of all the things that happened during the day for which I can say thank you. When I am in my journaling mood which is on and off, I write them down.
Of course it is much easier to be grateful when things are going well! But that is the whole point of a “practice.” We practice when things are going well so we when we really need it, it actually works! And yes, throughout the years, I have discovered that being grateful does make a difference especially when life seems to be throwing some curve balls.
For me a gratitude practice brings me to a Higher Place, the place of connection to the Divine, to G-d. In this place, I am uplifted and filled with Peace which then radiates out to world.
From Rabbi David aka “The Reb”
One of the most powerful Jewish paradigms is the ability to deeply appreciate the world around us. It is the understanding that nothing should be taken for granted, the simplest natural occurrence, the most basic bodily function, the smallest of creatures, the grass in the field, the trees, the flowers, anything we can think of is a marvel which deserves our appreciation and admiration. This kind of understanding is a gate to the highest spiritual discourse a human being can achieve. The first thought that should enter our mind when we first open our eyes in the morning is a prelude to a day blessed with expressions of appreciation.
Upon opening our eye we recite: Modeh Ani L’fanecha…”I thank you, Master of life and subsistence for returning my soul to me with much compassion”. One immediately washes the hands. This is a symbolic spiritual cleansing of the body so that it can receive back the soul which is being lent to us every morning for the day. What a powerful notion: Our soul is a gift which we receive every morning with much joy and appreciation to watch over, to love and cherish.
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