Tuesday, July 12, 2016

23 and Counting...

According to Jewish belief - tonight is my birthday.

23 years ago tonight, I came into this world. 
23 years ago tonight, I was given the greatest gift of all - Life.

I have always found birthdays empty, a societal invention to further the illusion that we are each the center of the universe. I rarely make a big deal out of it, and the entire day I am always second guessing myself how am I supposed to spend the day?

This year, however, I want to redefine what a birthday means to me. 22 has probably been the most life-changing year for me. I have met incredible people, been introduced to the power of positivity and mindfulness, and have been exposed to a world I did not know even existed.

Birthdays may or not be an arbitrarily made milestone, but a milestone it is. It is an opportunity to look back at the whole year, and reflect. Reflect on the good, the bad, the successes and the mistakes, the friends I have found, and the friends that I have lost. On where this year took me, where I am now, and where I want to be,

I thought that the best way for me to sum it up and be able to share it with others would be for me to share 23 lessons that I either learnt this year or  have actively worked on this year. 23 lessons that are more than just a checkbox; they are a way of life, a love note to the Creator, and a mantra that keeps me going:

1.  READ. A LOT.
2.  Exercise.
3.  Have strong convictions, and live by them.
4.  Don't take yourself too seriously.
5.  Do not be embarrassed to be a receiver. There is an art of accepting gracefully.
6.  There is beauty in everything and everyone, the only true filter that conceals it is the ego.
7.  There is a big difference between loneliness and solitude. Learn the difference.
8.  Almost anything can be an ego-trap if you let it be; set yourself free.
9.  The past and the future mean nothing if there isn't a NOW.
10.    To be G-dly does not mean to not be worldly. The world doesn't obstruct G-d, ego does.
11.    Be nice. To everyone.
12.    You can not love another, if you don't love yourself. Not judging others stems from not judging yourself.
13.    We do not create anything, we collaborate.
14.    Labels are for losers. Try to label yourself as little as possible.
15.    Have supports, not crutches. Learn to lean lightly.
16.    Drink lots of water, and eat healthy.
17.    You are not your emotions, or your thoughts, or your beliefs. You are you.
18.    Don't confuse being nice with allowing someone else to take advantage of you.
19.    If you're going to wear socks, make them crazy. Trust me.
20.    No matter where your emotions take you, one of the greatest remedies is a day well spent.
21.    אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי? וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי? וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתַי?
22.    As King Solomon said, "This too shall pass."
23.    Don't try to sum up all of a year’s achievements in bullet points, no matter how many.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

“Hayom yom…..”

There are two general outlooks one can have when they approach a Jewish holiday/event. Either to try and find the meaning of the holiday as a day in and of itself, as in what is the significance of the day? Or to try and find its purpose within the totality of Jewish observance, as in how does this fit within the context of my personal journey, within the theme of the current time of year?

When it comes to Sefiras Ha’Omer, little emphasis is placed on the seven-week period as an independent event, it is primarily a bridge between Pesach and Shavuot. However, when we try to examine the Sefira in the context of a bridge, several inconsistencies arise.

Firstly, the Sefira has been overtaken by Lag Ba’Omer. There is an undeniable stress on not listening to music, “sefirah beards”, etc. all signs of mourning that don’t really play into the theme that the Sefira is supposed to take. Historically, we are reliving the period when our ancestors left bondage and were heading to receive the Torah, a period of seemingly indicative delight. 

Not only are the rituals we preform seemingly misplaced, but the very message is incongruous. The students of Reb Akiva died because they didn’t give enough respect to each other. The obvious lesson we are supposed to take from it is about Ahavat Yisroel – working to be a better friend, a better person in the context of societal decency. The Sefira, however, is all about refining one’s personal middos, working with oneself. A necessary process of self-refinement that is a precursor to receiving the Torah. Why and how then do we commemorate these seemingly diverging concepts simultaneously?

Secondly, the very approach of the Sefira seems a tad far reaching at best, and at worst – a futile and an almost absurd endeavor. Every day we count off another Sefira – another combination of spiritual emanations that is supposed to represent another character trait we are supposed to refine. However, by allotting each Sefira a mere 24-hour time period, how much room are we really giving ourselves for personal refinement? By attempting to cover all 49 different traits within such a short span of time, pragmatically how much are we expected to accomplish? The very premise seems flawed right at the onset.

 How should one who wants to properly utilize the Sefira effectively approach it?

The key to understanding the Sefira, is to properly understand the story of Reb Akiva and his students. R’ Akiva is famous for saying, “Love your fellow Jew as yourself.” R’ Akiva lived his entire life as a symbol of love and respect, and yet that is what his students lacked more than anything else?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the problem with R’ Akiva’s students wasn’t that they didn’t possess love, rather their love was misplaced. Being so consumed by their need to help their fellow, and their boundless passion towards serving G-d, they took it as their life mission to convince each other to serve G-d in the way they found most appropriate. They were so consumed in their own personal service of G-d, that they remained ignorant of the fact that a connection with G-d cannot be objectively defined. There is no better or worse way to serve G-d, there is only your way. The aftermath of the whole story is R’ Shimon Bar Yochai. R’ Shimon brought the mystic side of Torah back to the people, brought the emphasis of Judaism back to the sincerity of one’s heart over the meticulousness of one’s practice.

This approach is a quintessential predecessor to receiving the Torah. This is also what the avodah of the Sefirah is really about. We count a different sefirah every day not to stress that we have to work on every trait every day, but rather as a reminder that everyone is holding at their own sefirah. You might be working on yesod sheba’netzach (a personal favorite), but someone else could be holding at malchut sheba’gevurah. Counting the sefirah is an exercise of open-mindedness and inclusiveness. Every day should be seen as glimmer into the world and struggle of another. We are all walking together towards the mountain to receive the Torah, but each at their own pace with their own load. Only when we don’t try to define and assess the journey of another by our own limitations, do we allow true unity and service of G-d to exist. Only when we walk together as equals, can we camp at the base of the mountain “as one man with one heart”. Then, and only then, can we fully and wholeheartedly stand together as one and re-receive the Torah.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

So the Child should Ask:

Personal Pesach Thought:

Last night, as I was going through the seder – I was trying to catch quick glimpses of the Minhagim and reasons behind the seder within the הערות. One reason that kept on reappearing, and one we are all familiar with, is that “the child should ask.”

But what happens when the child actually asks? What are we supposed to tell them?

Perhaps the Hagaddah is trying to teach us all a lesson how to properly educate our youth 
והגדת לבנך:

One of the big parts of Judaism isn’t that of the answer- but rather the question. One cannot educate those who do not ask, and one will not ask unless they are curious. The youth should look at Judaism as a beautiful, complex mystery. That they should question all the acts we do within our lives, not as an act of rebellion, but rather fascination. That if you want your child to follow in your beliefs – they have to be amazed by your stories as they do a clear star-filled night. That the beginning of change, of growth, is not found within repetition, but within captivation.

Friday, February 12, 2016

How many colors do you see?

In general, we can break up a person’s perception of the world (1) into 3 categories:
  1. Black & White:  There are those that look at the world in a very definitive manner. Everything is binary – black or white, good or bad. They see themselves as complex individuals, and can find ways to justify themselves when it breaks out of the general boundaries. However, they take extreme comfort in explaining the world, and others, in ‘clear’ terms. It helps them handle the innate craziness of life, and the uncertainty of everything. 
  2. 50 Shades: The next type of person is one who appreciates and venerates nuance. They use their own personal experience as a backdrop to better understand the world, but it is still limiting. True, things now exist in a large spectrum of grey over being simply black and white. However, though good might not have one specific definition, it has a constraint. There still exists for the person a semi-defined box for what is good and what is bad, what is beautiful and what is not.

3.  The third level I like to call a Rainbow, as it represents the whole visible spectrum and beyond; it can also simply be called ‘Light’ (2): Black and white exists, but not as independent beings. They are built of the endless myriads of colors, shades, and hues. Take for example the three primary colors: RGB. From these three colors alone, when merged together in varying degrees, produces a broad array of colors. Now imagine the number of possible colors that exist within the world. It might have some red or blue in it, but it is its own color in its entirety, and if you never saw it you could never picture it. As Chassidus teaches: that the level of Tiferet, Beauty, can be described as a painting, where the beauty comes from unifying the colors. Every person is their own color. They are an outcome of many primal factors: nature, nurture, etc. But they are wholly unique. One’s personal beauty and appreciation of life in this way is not from the negation of another’s beauty. On the contrary, true beauty comes when you come together with others, and work off each other. The world is the canvas, G-d is the painter, and we – we are the pallet.

(1)    How they see the world in turn reflects how they see themselves, but for this discussion I want to look at each of the factors independently.
(2)    The colors are a metaphor for the ten Sefirot. Chassidut teaches us that the Sefirot are the framework of the entire universe. Even though everything is made off the 10 core Sefirot, they merge with each other infinity so, that each expression is unique.

Coming Back

I have not posted anything in a long while. Besides for the business of my day, the commitment to sit down and write a whole post is daunting. I have recently decided, that though I can't push myself to write long posts, I can still write snippets of ideas. Therefore, on a more semi-regular basis, I will post shorter posts. They might be something that I have been working on, or something that I read that I was touched by. It will be a diary of sorts of how and where my mind is taking me.

You are welcomed to join.