Song of Peace
From Cantor Lee
It has been three weeks since my daughter’s wedding and I am still flying high! My daughter is happy and I adore my beautiful new daughter in law!For this joy alone, I am beyond grateful! But there is even more that is taking me into the higher realms! People are still trying to describe what happened during the wedding weekend. “It was Magical.” “I was transformed.” “There was the presence of an electrical charge.” Rabbi David and I can only say that the heavens opened up to allow the in-pouring of the Divine! And I am still feeling this in-pouring!
It was as though 170 people were taken to a magical fairy land and each given a spark of Love Energy to not only further open our hearts but to touch everyone that we meet. This can certainly make the mother of the bride continue to fly! With Thanksgiving tomorrow here I can only say, Thank you to my daughter, Rachel. Thank you to my new daughter, Marissa. Thank you G-d!!
From Rabbi David aka The Reb
Another Amen!! I agree with my beautiful wife!
Now on to my thoughts about Thanksgiving and The Power of Gratitude:
The American idea of setting aside a holiday for the sole purpose of showing appreciation for what we have is more than just noble. The classic explanation of its origin has to do with the Pilgrims’ appreciation of their life in the new land and the hope of surviving harsh winters to come.
This idea is not strange to us, the Jewish People, at all. Setting time aside to rejoice in life and our traditions is a central theme in Jewish life. Moreover, our tradition encourages expression of appreciation on a daily basis. We are given the opportunity to express gratitude many times during the course of the day. We use a special “spiritual instrument” to do exactly that. We call it, a blessing.
Jewish scholars in every generation are instructed us to say at least 100 blessings a day, every day of our life. Imagine that… Many of these “expressions” are in fact pretty routine and are embedded in our prayer book. There are blessings for almost every aspect of our life from waking up in the morning, washing, taking care of our hygiene needs, blessings over different foods, encountering different natural phenomenon – and these are just for starters.
To help us reach the 100 recommended blessings, the great rabbis of the past instituted a series of 91 blessings to be recited as part of the morning, afternoon and evening services. The other nine are recited at different occasions during the day as they present themselves.
But why? If I was G-D, I would be a little taken back by this barrage of constant blessings. (OK, I get it. You appreciate your life and everything in it. You don’t have to constantly thank me … I get it the first time… ) Maybe part of the reason for this constant appreciation for the marvels of life is to benefit us for our own well being.
Reciting a blessing, or for that matter any expression of appreciation regardless of its religious content, creates a powerful positive energy around us, helping us with our physical and psychological health. That is the reason why the Jewish tradition teaches that blessings or any expression of appreciation are like boomerangs; they leave our soul aiming for others and come back to benefit us many times over.
Never taking any part of our life for granted is not only a way for a healthy life, it is also a foundation to a healthy society which encourages nurturing relationships in all of our social circles, our immediate and extended family circles as well as our co- workers and acquaintance circles.
I am often amazed by the wisdom of the Jewish scholars of the past who instituted these expressions of constant appreciation as part of our Jewish fabric. The Jewish narrative regarding the holiday of Thanksgiving is that the Pilgrims took the idea from the Jewish holiday of Succot. The holiday of Succot which is celebrated at the end of the agricultural year is designated in the Torah specifically as a holiday for thanking G-D for a fruitful and rainy winter in our land of Israel. It is a holiday in which we are literally commanded to rejoice and appreciate our life and our environment. This of course is part of the “Jewish Boomerang” principle: the more we appreciate the rain and the crop of the previous year, the more rain and richer crop we will have next year.
May we all be blessed with a Happy Thanksgiving!
From Cantor Lee
Our daughter is getting married this weekend! Two and a half years ago, when we first shared in a congregation newsletter article (which is below) Rachel’s engagement to her partner, Marissa, we were amazed by the feedback we received. People seemed to come out of the woodwork, mostly thanking us for being so open about gay marriage which helped them deal with their own family issues in this area. As we explained in the article even Rabbi David and I had some conditioned beliefs which we needed to recognize so we could clear them. In spiritual teachings the more we as individuals clear our own issues, the more we help the collective. There must have been a lot of clearing over the past two and a half years as it is amazing at how many strides have been made in the acceptance and legalization of gay marriage. Of course Florida isn’t quite there yet. As Rachel said to me recently, “Mom, even Utah is ahead of Florida!”
Here is the article from two and a half years ago:
We have exciting news! Our daughter, Rachel is engaged!! In Judaism, when G-d, the ultimate matchmaker, brings two souls together in love, their happiness and joy spill out into the world, affecting everyone around them. Thus, the couple is essentially performing Tikun Olam, the repairing of the world.
No, we do not have a wedding date yet and Yes, we are calling the ceremony a wedding, even though if performed today, Rachel’s marriage to Marissa would not be recognized by the state of Florida. It is much easier to be a gay couple these days, but we still have a long way to go. Rachel and Marissa are aware that they may encounter some prejudice, perhaps even from people close to us. And there may be others who wish to be accepting but are struggling with their true inner feelings. It takes work and often courage to transform beliefs that have been instilled in us since childhood. But this is part of the work of Tikun Olam, repairing of the world, that we Jews have agreed to do. For as we transform ourselves and climb “Jacob’s Ladder” to the next level of consciousness, we affect the whole.
For both of us during our growing up years, we were programmed with the belief that being gay was something to be kept in the shadows and especially secret from the older generation! When Rachel shared her news, we looked deep within ourselves to root out any part of this belief that was still lingering. There is a beautiful saying in Judaism; “Who is Wise? He who learns from every man.” We are grateful that Rachel has been the catalyst for our own learning and spiritual growth, perhaps even helping us get to the next rung of the ladder!
We are looking forward to this next step of having a married child and to officially welcoming Marissa into our family.
May we all be blessed with the opportunity to learn from each other and may we all be blessed with Love!!
(The picture above is from their engagement party Dec. 2012. Yes, it was cold in Florida that day! Rachel is on the left and Marissa on the right.)
And my words of wisdom are: AMEN TO THAT! This father of the bride will be doing a lot of dancing this weekend!
An article was recently forwarded to me about a woman who joined a prayer group to pray for a child with cancer. Each night the woman participated in a conference call that included a leader reciting psalms. Although the woman felt quite transformed by this experience, in the end the child died leaving the prayers of the group unanswered.
This is a difficult topic to understand. Why pray if our prayers are not answered? In our Hebrew School we have a ritual each week where the children pray for people and animals they choose which sometimes includes an ill grandparent or other loved one. And yes, sometimes that loved one dies. Our children have learned that we might not always receive the answer to the prayer that we personally want but that prayer always helps.
Thirteen years ago, Rabbi David and I began praying for one of our neighbors, a sixteen year old named Sean who had been battling cancer for three years. I kept getting the spiritual message that I was to form a healing circle for Sean with our neighbors. This was quite out of my comfort zone at the time as I wasn’t sure how my neighbors, of all different religions, would react to such a request. However, my spiritual guides would not leave me alone so I finally approached one of my neighbors, a devout Christian. She loved the idea and offered to have the circle at her home. We began with five of us but word spread and at the peak of the healing circle we had over 100 people!
We were all very excited when after a few days of our healing circle Sean began to improve! In the end however, he too passed away. Sean’s mother and I often spoke afterwards of how the love and support of the circle helped Sean and the family with his transition. Those of us in the circle also understood that Sean’s soul had decided it was his time.
Rabbi David and I have a saying, “Not Everything is as it Seems,” for what often doesn’t make sense in the physical world makes sense in the spiritual world. To cover all bases we always pray for the “Highest Good.” As an evolved soul, Sean touched everyone he met and helped me in my own spiritual understanding. His mother and I both felt that Sean left when he did to help many souls cross over who died on 9-11, the day he was buried.
We know that evolved souls may take on extremely difficult assignments to help our world. Perhaps this is the case with Robin Williams who despite his illness brought such Joy to us all! Did he on a soul level choose to leave the planet through suicide to save many others from doing the same? His death has certainly raised awareness of mental illness, depression and suicide. Just the outpouring of compassion and love has to have helped raise the vibration of our planet.
In the end, we really don’t have the answers and no matter the Higher Plan, still we mourn when we lose our loved ones. For me it is a little easier knowing that not everything is as it seems, what often doesn’t make sense in the physical world makes sense in the spiritual world.
From Rabbi David aka The Reb
Most of us are familiar with the classic love triangle story with King David, Bat Sheva and her husband Uriah. The king and Bat Sheva have an affair, she becomes pregnant and King David has Uriah killed by sending him to the battlefront. After the baby is born, the king is told by Prophet Nathan that the baby will not live due to this transgression.
As the baby becomes sick, King David goes into seclusion and fasts for seven day begging G-D for forgiveness. “Why punish an innocent baby for his father’s sin?” he argues while intensely praying. After crying and pleading throughout the week, the baby still dies. To the astonishment of his servants, King David gets off the floor, washes his face and sits down to eat breakfast.
The death of the baby made no sense to the king. G-D was upset with him as he should be, but punishing the child went against G-D’s own words in the Torah, as it specifically and very clearly decreed that children should never die for the sins of their fathers (and vice versa).
Yet, while mourning the death of his innocent baby, he immediately accepts the divine verdict despite the obvious contradiction to G-D’s own pledge. What is it that King David knew that was unknown to his servants?
If we lived in a physical reality only, with nothing else but the here and now, then we would simply say that prayers are a way for us to manifest all of our wishes here on earth. But this is not the Jewish reality. In its basis, Jewish theology recognizes that the here and now is but a minute component of that which is around us. Our physical life on earth is a very small part of the spectrum of all that there is.
So where is the rest of this giant spectrum? The Hebrew term for it is “Nistar,” Hidden. We know for example that there is a designer, a maker of the universe with its laws and nature. We just don’t know who and what it is.
And of course on the human level we justify the idea of G-D and other spiritual matters by explaining that nature is too complex to randomly work in such perfect harmony. We also say that for every cause there is an effect, so that even the “big bang,” is still an effect, not a cause. The original “Cause,” (G-D?) is a concept which the human mind cannot truly understand.
When praying, we enter into a world which is not understood by the physical tools we possess in this physical world. It also is not necessarily a linear process where we have an issue, we pray, the issue is solved. It would be wonderful if prayers worked that way all the time but they don’t.
The world of prayer is a two way street. When we petition the Higher Power (AKA ” praying”) we are changed inside. It draws us closer to the “Nistar” the unknown. While King David prayers were not answered despite a night of intense prayer and fasting, this episode did draw him closer to that spiritual unknown. One can sense that the king went through a paradigm shift, a spiritual enhancement which changed him forever.
I believe that the world of the unknown is vast and complex and that when a human soul lives on earth it may be for reasons far greater than we in the physical world can comprehend. Yet, it is this understanding which helps us become the spiritual beings we all strive to be.
Prayer may not always achieve our intended desires in our physical world but they do open the gates of heaven deep within our hearts and minds.
This is a story I have told to many and also share with my seventh graders each year.
About eight years ago, a new couple moved into the house across the street from us and much to our shock had animosity towards us. This was also surprising to the rest of our neighbors as we live in a multicultural neighborhood and honor each other's beliefs, traditions and religions.
After the couple's baby was born, they began going to neighborhood meetings to complain about us, that we had too many visitors. What is so funny that people with teenagers had more visitors than we did! Although the neighborhood board stood behind us and suggested that we have people park in our driveway this whole situation got under my skin. In spiritual terms it means that this couple hooked into my energy field. I became nervous each time someone came to visit and uncomfortable when the couple was outside.
Rabbi David and I decided we would pray that they would move and had a special prayer/ceremony one evening in our front yard. They actually put up a for sale sign the next week!! But within two weeks the sign was gone. I then decided I would just change the energy by sending them blessings each time I would go outside. This wasn't easy especially in the beginning but I kept at it. Although my anger and discomfort lessened it kept getting triggered as the couple continued to display animosity towards us.
As my daily ritual progressed, I finally reached the place that no matter what they were sending me, my heart was truly full of blessings for them. Within a month of reaching this point, the family moved! The other strange thing is that two other families down the street that that were not so kind to their neighbors moved at the same time!
Today, four years since the family moved, I look back on this experience with much gratitude for it helped expand my spiritual understanding on many levels. I have continued the daily ritual of sending blessings to those who show animosity and hatred and right now that includes Hamas and ISIS. I honestly can't say that my heart is always totally open in doing this but I know that working on the energetic level as a partner with G-d is part of the plan. And so I will continue. Who knows, perhaps all those who decide not to align with love and peace will move to a different planet!!
As if we needed a reminder how awful, cruel and vicious war is, we have had a full dose of it in the last couple of weeks. The intention was to put a stop to several thousand rockets which have been falling on every corner of Israel threatening the life of every Israeli citizen, man woman and child.
We now know that the long and elaborate network of tunnels dug under many Israeli villages was in preparation for a monster terror operation which was to take place during the High Holy Days this year. Thousands of terrorists (yes, thousands!) were to emerge at the same time from these tunnels in the middle of many Israeli villages, shooting at anything and everyone. This would have been an extremely well coordinated operation which would have easily massacred at least 5,000 Israelis.
Israel estimates there would have been a 90% chance of success. Hamas has been practicing this operation for a year and a half now. So yes, this was a real plan!
In the last two weeks approximately 2500 rockets have fallen over Israel. To compare the percentage to the United States, multiply 2500 rockets by 450 (the USA is approximately 450 times the size of Israel.)
The answer is 1,125,000 rockets. Imagine if Mexico sent more than a million rockets all over the USA. How long would it take for the USA military to take action?...Get the picture?
But this is not to excuse the Israeli operation in Gaza. Israel does not need an excuse to do everything possible to survive a barbaric enemy which does not recognize any Jewish person's right to live and breathe anywhere in the world. Period. Speaking of a war of survival....
So what is the answer? Will we forever live under the shadow of complete annihilation?
The bible, a 3000 year old book, describes numerous incidents in which nations who intended to destroy Israel were completely destroyed. No doubt three millennium ago we had a very violent beginning. Yet one can easily understand that in these ancient times the rules of war were simple. Only one side survived, either Israel or their enemies. Nothing in between. (sound familiar?...)
But the difference was that we were never violent people. We simply faced violent circumstances. In fact, from the first day of our exodus from Egypt we were taught to love freedom and protect it with all our might. Freedom for all nations. Freedom also means peace for all.
What is amazing in our evolvement as a nation and as human beings is that despite all the violence perpetrated upon us over the years, we never developed violent tendencies. This is true throughout our history. Israel is fighting to survive, not to destroy anyone.
As our terrorist enemies admit, "The Jews love life ( L'chaim...)"
We also love Freedom and Justice - we always did.
But how is it that our spiritual development took such a different course than most of the ancient world? There are spiritual clues in the bible that provide the answer. On the surface the biblical "rules of engagement" are very clear, pragmatic and moral including do not rush to war, try to negotiate peace, fight only until your enemy surrenders, never engage non combatants in war activities.
Over the centuries these basic humanitarian rules have led to an amazing leap in Jewish consciousness. You see, we recognize the Power of the Light of G-D within us, the Light of Peace and Love which is desperately yearning to eliminate evil and war from the human mind and soul, to shift our spiritual DNA so no human being will ever worship wickedness and brutality.
Yes, Israel right now has to physically defend herself. But by us also spiritually sending the Light of Love and holding a vision of peace in our daily prayers we will trump evil! May the Light of our collective consciousness eliminate all darkness and suffering around the world!
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!
..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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