Friday, March 8, 2013

Pain: Covering it, or Controling It?

More important than the actions we do, are the motivations behind them. 
I have a friend who broke her engagement right before her wedding, because she realized beyond a doubt that her ex fiance was marrying her just for her money. But until that point he did a pretty good job convincing her that it was her he really wanted.

 Have I ever done any action for ulterior motives? Absolutely.

The possuk writes, V'hanesiim heiviu et avnei hashoham; And the princes brought the Shoham stones.

If you pay close attention, you'll see that word nessiim is written without the letter 'yud'. Though it's small in appearance, the 'yud' is huge in significance. Why is it missing?

When the nessiim of each tribe heard that Hashem wanted a mishkan, tabernacle (gosh, who invented that word?) erected they suggested to Moshe that they alone would supply all the necessary materials for the mishkan. Moshe responded that Hashem would accept contributions from anyone who was willing to give. So, the nesiim decided privately that they wouldn't donate with the rest of the Jewish people but rather they'd wait til the end and supply whatever was lacking.

Although this sounds pretty noble, there was a problem. They underestimated the generosity and devotion of the Jewish people who all gave eagerly and lovingly, so that no more material was needed and they missed their chance. The nessiim were left excluded. They desperately wanted to have a part in the building of the mishkan, so they donated the precious gems for the Eifod and Choshen.  

The Torah omits the letter 'yud' to indicate a failure on the part of the nessiim. Although their intentions were honorable, they were wrong to postpone the fulfillment of a mitzvah. The omission or addition of the letter 'yud' to a name is a very significant change. 
Remember when Moshe added the letter 'yud' to Yehoshua's name? He did that before he went to scout the land of Eretz Yisrael, so that the other spies wouldn't have a negative influence on him.

So it would be important for us to understand the sin that mandated such a punishment.

Rashi, in his commentary, offers an answer. "Since they were lazy, a letter was omitted from their name". Although they thought their intentions were noble, in reality it was indolence that was the motivating factor for not contributing to the mishkan.

Maybe, just maybe, sometimes it's our subconscious that  regulates our reasoning? 
 The subconscious is a strange creature. It doesn't know what day it is, and can't add two and two. But it seems to know what may be causing my pain.

The subconscious has no ability to reason inductively, meaning that it can't use reason to take specific observations (for example, "two plus two") and arrive at general conclusions about them (for example, "equals four").

Instead it often uses blind association to arrive at general conclusions, sometimes linking things that make no logical sense. For example, if as a child you burned your hand on the exhaust pipe of a car when a tall man walked by, your subconscious may believe that tall people make exhaust pipes hot.

Yet despite these and other limitations the subconscious maintains subtle mastery over brain chemistry, regulates hundreds of life-giving processes, stores every word you ever heard or read, and orchestrates massive defenses when alien organisms invade your body.
 The power of the subconscious is frightening.

When I was 20 years old, I organized a seminar consisting of 1,000 young women, for Bnos Agudath Yisrael of America. As part of the program, I had wanted to reserve a certain well known speaker to address the crowd. He was a young, enthusiastic Rabbi who lived in Boro Park. I found his number, called his home, and his wife picked up. 
He wasn´t home, so I left a detailed message and then left my name and number. I was about to hang up, when I hear on the other end, ¨No Way! Are you the Yaffa Berger who went to _________ school for preschool¨
Shocked, I answered in the affirmative. She continued telling me how she was my teacher in Pre-1-A.
Suddenly I heard myself shouting. MORAH YOCHEVED?? 
She laughed and told me that she was, indeed, morah Yocheved.
All of a sudden there were tears in my eyes. I related to her how once, in class, when I was 5 years old, I mispronounced a certain word while reading it out loud, and a moment later I corrected myself, but that she had refused to give me a sticker for it. I was devastated because I really, truly, knew the correct way to read it, but yet she didn´t give me that pink, shiny sticker. 
To make a long story short, she asked me for my address and mailed me the sticker.
But to make long stories longer, just delve into the subconscious and see what´s inside. Every little incident can last a lifetime in there, and we often cannot access them until something triggers them to come to life. 
15 years later, the memory of that incident jumped out in front of me, causing me to feel that pain, pain that I had filed away, all over again.

 The subconscious houses the emotions, imagination, memory, habits and intuition.
 Although our conscious mind has the ability to reason and to decide upon the most advantageous course of action, it cannot implement its decision unless the subconscious agrees and directs its energy toward that end. Our source of energy is the subconscious mind. No amount of willpower exerted by the conscious mind can override it. 

Willpower can only dent the surface.  
It is an enormous power that we store in our subconscious mind and it is we that have to take control and direct it toward where we want it to go – not the other way around.

Sometimes life can be painful. Physically, emotionally, or both.

The subconscious is so powerful that it may be able to turn episodes of uncontrolled pain into events over which we have a degree of control. It can teach the conscious to create survival techniques that make us feel like winners, but we are, in essence ignoring the deep seated issues that the subconscious covered up to protect us from feeling its pain.
The best biblical example to illustrate how we can so easily trick ourselves is when the 11 brothers, the shevatim, decided that the 12th brother, Yosef, was a threat to their spiritual future.They convinced themselves of that by comparing him to their uncle Esav, and great uncle, Yishmael, and decided they need to sell him and get rid of him for good.
But you and I know the truth. It´s written straight out in the Torah. They were downright jealous of him and wanted him out of their lives.

In order to thrive in life, it is of vital importance for us to be totally in touch with, and aware of our feelings and emotions in order to take control over the subconscious and recognize the true motivation for our actions.
If the intention is wrong, or if we are dishonest with ourselves, we will ultimately come out looking wrong, missing out, or making bad decisions. Or all of the above.

"The teeth are smiling, but is the heart?" (Congolese proverb)
Have a beautiful shabbos.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What Am I Afraid Of?

Hearing about this week’s unspeakable tragedy on the heels of so many others over the past few months and years, created a universal state of panic and fear.

Each of us knows we will die one day. But we fool ourselves into thinking that those who die belong to a separate sector of humanity. "They are the mortal ones. We are immortal." Underneath it all, we have this illusion.

Did you ever have a friend who died suddenly? How did you react? "But I just talked to him yesterday! He can't really be dead. He was so full of life!"

What does that mean – "It can't be"? What we're really saying is that it's too close for comfort. I'm not in the mortal group. And now my friend is dead. That's too close. It can't be.

When someone we know dies unexpectedly, we feel our own sense of vulnerability. It makes us think, "Am I using my time efficiently?"

And that´s scary.

Fear of consequences can be a great motivator in getting a job done quickly and efficiently. But fear can also be dangerous when it´s used negatively. When we perceive God as a threat, our fear is egotistical, producing unfavorable results.

So what exactly is positive fear?

 We are given two different commandments about the way we must relate to God.
1.  We’re obligated to LOVE Him.
2.  We’re obligated to FEAR Him.

Contrary to popular belief, the emotions of LOVE and HATE are not opposites. There are too many similarities between the two, and they both stem from the same source.

The opposite of love, is fear.

Really?! Who am I to contradict so many decades of movies and love songs?

Well, when I love someone, I want to be as close to the object of my love as possible. When I fear something, I want to be as far away from the object of my fear as possible.

They are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

So, how can we be obligated to relate to God with two opposite emotions, simultaneously?

If you were to forget the birthday of someone you barely know it would hardly be considered a crime. But forgetting the birthday of your best friend, or spouse, may be reason for capital punishment.

A husband who forgot his wife’s birthday will be afraid to put his key in the door after work that day. Why? Is he afraid she’ll come pouncing at him and whack him on the head with a frying pan?

I don´t think so. 

It’s because he’s afraid of disappointing her.


So, in reality, LOVE and FEAR go hand in hand.

The unity of these two emotions is called AWE. ´Awesome´ has become a slangy word for ´amazing´ in our era, but it´s really deeper than that. 

‘Awe’, on one hand, is an experience so powerful that it's paralyzing. On the other hand, we know awe to be extremely exhilarating. Capturing a ‘WOW moment’, like witnessing the power of a hurricane, hearing tragic news, being spared an accident, or being in the presence of a political or cultural leader, can have a lasting effect on us.

Awe helps release you from the limits of the body. You are suddenly in a world of different dimensions, transported into the eternity of beauty, power, majesty. You've got an expanded perspective. It's no longer me versus you. We're all one.

Awe carries us beyond ourselves. In times of war and tragedy – as well as prosperity and joy – people get "bigger." They treat each other nicer. Pettiness and anger are forgotten.

But the reaction to an awesome experience can go either way. Will I allow the ´wow moment´ to make me feel insignificant and small, or will I merge with the greater whole and release its positive energy?

This decision will lead me either to experience depression, or inspiration.

Depression is the result of the emphasis on fear, while inspiration is derived from the aspect of love.

The key is to round out the ends of the spectrum, causing love and fear to march through life holding hands.

When we hear about terrible tragedies occurring, not only are we shocked and full of questions, but we develop a new level of fear. Relating to God with fear becomes increasingly easier than relating to Him with love, thereby leading us to depression and despair.

It’s all about mastering fear.

The Hebrew word yirah, means both to ‘fear’, and to ‘see’.

The way to become the person I want to be, I must master my fear. Not just my claustrophobia, or my fear of heights, but also my fear of failure, of success, of life, and of death.

And that means ‘seeing’ life from an expanded perspective.

It means having an awareness that comes from understanding, derived from realization. It means ´seeing´ things that are not obvious, referring to a deep level of understanding.

A world that runs randomly, without rhyme or reason, a world without control, is a world with no questions and no expectations. It´s also a world without love.

When I ask 'why'?, when I´m afraid of what's coming next, I'm confirming that my world is run by a God, Whom, by definition is 100% Just.

By being Just, He rewards every single act, as well as punishes every single act. Nothing goes unaccounted for. No one is forgotten.

What frightens me is His love for me.

Knowing that there is a master plan in this world, both generally and personally, and that I´m only responsible to strive for perfection, but not to reach it, and that my only responsibility in life is the effort, not the result, regardless of my determination… is the way I master my fear.   

I can never be a failure if the results don´t belong to me.

I never have to worry or be anxious, since life´s burdens are not on my shoulders.

I know that whatever happens in the world, God makes that decision out of love for me. I don´t have to understand it, nor do I have to like it. If I understood God´s intentions, or if I was let in on the secrets of the universe, they wouldn´t be secrets anymore, and God wouldn´t be much of a God. I certainly would´t want to take over.

The energy we get from fear can be harnessed for positive purposes. It doesn´t have to be restricting.

Fear is power and freedom.

Fear helps me do what's right, not what society thinks is right.

Fear is an exercise in free will.

Fear allows me to feel the thrill of life 100 percent of the time.

Fear can be used as a motivator for greatness.

Exactly like love.

Therefore, when I concretize awesome experiences and take control of my fear, when I actualize my potential, it leads me to love life, to love God, to love my friends, and eventually, to love my enemies.

Tragedies awaken us. They inspire us to face our mortality, wipe out pettiness, relinquish dilusional control, calm our anxiety, and make the most efficient use of our time by living life to its fullest.