Searching for the Soul

Pesach/Passover and Easter are here and it’s Shabbat as well, so it seems a good time to reflect on Redemption, both in the story of escaping to freedom and to God, as well as seeking His Kingdom and righteousness through the power of His Messiah.
 
So as I pause from a very hectic last few months and contemplate the next few months that look to bring some very challenging times of both great loss and exciting new beginnings laid out before me, I wish to share a little from a book I am currently embracing.
In her great book ‘Einstein & the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul’, Rabbi Naomi Levy recommends we ask ourselves 4 very significant questions, and that as we seek to ‘find our soul’ we re-visit and ask these questions repeatedly.
 
1. What has my soul been trying to say to me that I have been ignoring;
2. What activities and experiences nourish my soul that I don’t do enough of;
3. What does my soul want to repair that my ego is too stubborn or fearful to repair;
4. What does my soul want me to reach for?
 
Firstly if you have not thought deeply and studied widely on the subject of the soul you may find these questions strange. Also for those of us who have a good grasp of the Yetzer HaTov and Yetzer HaRa (the good and evil inclinations) we may instead see question 1 as the yearnings and calling of our Yetzer HaTov, and question 3 as the voice of our Yetzer HaRa trying to restrict our growth by being too heedful of our fear and anxieties.
 
However you come to these questions, and at whatever stage of your journey you are on, a journey that has its straight and easy paths, its steep hills, its backwaters of seeming stagnation and its roller-coasters or joy, I think these questions are well worth pausing to reflect upon and choosing to regularly revisit.
soul1
 
Let me unpack them a little, at least from my perspective though I do strongly recommend taking the time to read Rabbi Levy’s book.
 
Question 1 and 4 are clearly very connected. Your soul cries out to you, though extremely subtly, to face truths and circumstances that when confronted should lead to a much greater revelation of what your soul yearns for the most.
 
There is no doubt that we all long for security, for love, for great friends and family, for joy and peace every day and for little pain, yet each of us is unique and we have been given unique skills, passions and positions in time and place to do something worthy of being created in the image of God and becoming more united with the Oneness of the Almighty and the Universe through which we connect with Him and our fellow souls.
 
In seeking to answer question 1, assuming you are at a time and place where you sense its importance to you, try to meditate on what activities you find yourself most at peace in. When is it that you sense you are most connected with your world and most true to yourself.
 
Perhaps you can’t answer this question right now – perhaps you first need to give your soul the permission to speak more strongly to you so that you can begin to hear this call. And also then, what might be your higher calling, that is the work that you are called to be most involved in at this time to share in ‘Tukkin Ha Olam’ (repairing the world).
 
Please see the last two pages of my article ‘Amazing Grace’ (https://goo.gl/4y87Kf) where I discuss the fascinating story of Avraham and the burning Palace and how this leads to the great truth that we are all called to become partners with the Creator in ‘building the world with grace’ (Psalm 89:2).
 
Question 2 may be a little easier to answer, but even here, as you grow, as your life unfolds, this too may change.
 
For now though, try to be real with yourself. What really uplifts you? When do you feel most at peace, not necessarily most joyful or happy, but most connected to your environment and those people you share life with. It may even be a time and place where you are alone in some way so that you can first re-connect with yourself and with your God (that is with your current perception of the One True God, whatever that may be). Perhaps you need to be alone to properly and fully appreciate those who normally surround you – to see and hear their souls, their true deeper selves, their true hearts and not necessarily the external nature and behaviours you generally see which may be distorted by the daily challenges of life. See the soul within, see the person they can be and then in turn see the person you can be.
 
Question 3 may be the hardest of all. We have all damaged our souls. We have all done things that were wrong, that we regret, that may even be irreparable, at least in this life. Can we be honest enough with ourselves to see where we need to forgive, both others and ourselves. Perhaps especially ourselves.
 
We all think we could do better if we had a second chance. Yet in life we don’t always get second chances and perhaps even if we did, would we really do better – have we grown and matured enough to really choose a better path with better outcomes?
 
We really can’t go back in time, but we can make today and our future better, especially of we heed the lessons of our mistakes and our successes.
 
One of the things that can really hold us back is holding on to hurt, leading to bitterness and deep anger. For example, if we have been seriously betrayed in our past, and we still feel the pain from that betrayal I would argue that we have not truly forgiven either that person or persons who betrayed us or our ourselves.
 
I have written in more depth on the challenges of forgiveness – see my article ‘Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness’ – https://globaltruthinternational.com/2013/08/16/darkness-cannot-drive-out-darkness/
 
So please consider these four questions and then make a note or set an alarm to revisit them in a few days and again in a few weeks. It may be best to record your initial thoughts each time and the you will be more able to see if your thinking has grown.
 
It is (almost) never too late to try to go deeper with your soul. It is never too late to look beyond the exterior of those around you and see their souls. Take a step back if you can, and appreciate ‘the heart of gold’ buried within – maybe only you can see it, even when they can’t. Maybe you have the strength, when no-one else seemingly does, to allow your soul to look beyond the exterior and connect with their soul and to some degree allow the two to become one.
soul3
 
Finally, as Rabbi Levy explains so eloquently, this truly is a process as we ‘search for our souls’. And it is a twofold one as well. We need first to allow the One True God to remove our ‘stony heart’, to reduce the power and control of our Yetzer HaRa, so that He can replace it with a heart of flesh – a heart and soul in tune with our nature, our uniqueness, our world and also our God.

” …and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”  Ezekiel 36:26b

Advertisements
Jacob, a Role Model for overcoming a life of struggle

Jacob, a Role Model for overcoming a life of struggle

Some years ago I wrote an article on this week’s Torah Portion [Vayishlach: Genesis 32:4-36:43], around the issue of being distressed by the loss of life – see https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/11/30/distressed-by-the-tragedy-of-loss-of-life/

But I think this Torah Portion has a much more powerful message to share, and it’s that Jacob is really a great role-model for those going through struggles in the lives, which of course is all of us at some time!

And why is Jacob such a great role model in this regard?

I would suggest for two main reasons. Firstly, he epitomises fallibility and secondly, I think he epitomises someone with a diminished sense of self-worth.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks states Jacob was “…The man who, more than any other, epitomises fallibility is Jacob…. His life was a series of struggles. Nothing came easily to him…

There are saintly people for whom spirituality comes as easily as did music to Mozart. But God does not reach out only to saints. He reaches out to all of us. That is why He gave us Abraham for those who love, Isaac for those who fear, and Jacob/Israel for those who struggle.

Hence this week’s life-changing idea: if you find yourself struggling with faith, you are in the company of Jacob-who-became-Israel … and the father of the 12 Tribes.

So while his life was a life of struggle, both with man; with his brother and his family; but also with God Himself, ultimately he saw great reward and redemption in that all his children stayed within the faith.

Sacks: According to the pain is the reward’ – Mishnah, Avot 5:23. That is Jacob.”

So while Jacob struggled he was eventually triumphant. This should encourage all who struggle – don’t give up, there is light at the end of the tunnel; it will be worth it; the pain will one day pass; the Olam HaBah (the Kingdom of God) will one day appear!

And how does a low sense of worthiness come into it?

I think that Jacob may well have had some sense of unworthiness, after-all he really knew that he was the 2nd born and that he had stolen the birthright of his older brother Esau. Not only did he pay a heavy price for this deception, his mother did as well[1], and surely this would have impacted him.

How does this impact and exacerbate the life of struggle?

I discuss this in my blog post ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ which highlights the work of the social researcher, Brene Brown.

See – https://globaltruthinternational.com/2017/05/27/the-power-of-vulnerability/

Her argument is that those who don’t feel worthy are more likely to fall for addictions; to feel dis-connected (which is not at all the same thing as enjoying solitude), to struggle to find joy and happiness. Someone who feels worthy is more easily able to be vulnerable, and in turn such people are more easily able to ‘hear’ the lessons that God gives us every day and grow from them.

A lack of a sense of worthiness in turn leads to placing barriers and walls which not only lead to disconnection but inhibit any openness to growth and learning.
1971-1
Perhaps Jacob also struggled in this way, and yet he persevered and broke through. You can too!

[1] I have written at length on this. Please see ‘Feeling For Rebekah’ – https://goo.gl/YtMqfi

The Ten Happiness Principles – Facebook Live

Please find below a developing series of Facebook Live sessions exploring in some more depth, the Ten Happiness Principles.

First things first though – thanks Danny!
I decided to do these FB Live recordings after encouragement from Danny, a good friend who is an entrepreneur, Social Media wiz, Life Coach and International Businessman
– check him out below:

I created a Udemy Course on the Ten Happiness Principles a couple of years ago – accessible here


So I will post below the series of Facebook Live recordings as I work through presenting again, The Ten Happiness Principles!

Introduction:

fb live intro

Happiness Principle #1 – Give Thanks

fb live no1 thanks

 

And a little more thanks!

 

The Paradox of the Rebellious Child – an Impossible Outcome

This weeks Torah Portion, Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19) has some very challenging passages – at least when first read on a fairly superficial level, but even perhaps still challenging after deeper reflection!!

It starts off with the narrative about the beautiful woman captured in wartime (Deut 21:10-14).

I love this answer as a great lesson in confronting our ‘evil inclination’, our Yetzer haRa, http://www.aish.com/tp/i/wbr/48922022.html

It goes on to discuss the ‘rebellious child’.

Rabbi Ari Kahn has a good explanation in one of his commentaries regarding the case of the rebellious child, who is to be stoned to death!
“Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death …” Deut 21:21
Rabbi Kahn states: “As the Sages see it, the rebellious child does not develop in a vacuum; he is the result of a dysfunctional home. … Interestingly enough, the Rabbis felt that there never was and never would be a “real” rebellious child.
 
This is not to say that such a child never existed.
 
Rather, the courts could never successfully prosecute and adjudicate such a case, due to the myriad conditions required for a conviction …”
Ari Khan shows here that the proper understanding of this passage is in what it actually teaches, and therefore in what should be avoided, and not in some strictly literal and seemingly incredibly harsh condemnation of a rebellious son.
A shocking scenario is painted with a consequence that very few would ever see as just or fair and certainly one appearing to display a total lack of true grace.
Yet this reality, this commandment, was never, and would never be enacted because it requires both mother and father to speak with one voice, and such unity of parenthood could not result in a rebellious son! (Read Ari’s article here for the full picture).

Thus those who dismiss the Tanakh and it’s teaching because of their rejection of a text they take in a very literal and simplistic manner are really shown to be both ignorant and arrogant in their approach.

I have also written briefly on this Torah Portion in an earlier blog post, ‘Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness’ here.

Dysfunctional Relationships by Rabbi Ari Kahn:  http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/54308942.htl

A shocking event: Abraham turns his back on the Almighty!

Thanks to a great insight from author Shalom Denbo:

In Genesis 17 we read where God and Avraham have made a covenant and Avraham has just been circumcised and the Almighty comes to comfort him.

So we read in Genesis 18:1 “YHVH appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest time of the day.”

Surely, most of us would consider a personal visit from YHVH, where He appears to us and talks with us would be the greatest thing that could ever happen to us!

Consider a less dramatic analogy:
Some great and famous person such as your country’s President or Prime Minister, or your greatest sportsman or guru comes to visit you and is sitting with you in your lounge. Surely, the honour and prestige would be so great that you would not get up and leave him/her?

Yet, this is exactly what Avraham does, and not just to the President, but to the Creator of the Universe!!

He gets up and leaves Him when he sees 3 strangers walking by; 3 strangers who may just be vagrants or poor travellers.

Read on from verse 1 to verses 2-5:
“2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing across from him. When he saw them he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
3 He said, “My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by and leave your servant.
4 Let a little water be brought so that you may all wash your feet and rest under the tree.
5 And let me get a bit of food so that you may refresh yourselves since you have passed by your servant’s home. After that you may be on your way.” “All right,” they replied, “you may do as you say.” – NET

Avraham doesn’t just leave God ‘standing’, he runs from Him!!

I had never seen this before or thought of what it signifies.

Is Avraham so ‘familiar’ with the Almighty that he can do this; or is he simply not aware of the great and awesome honour bestowed upon him to have YHVH in his presence, communing with him?

Denbo suggests another option.

He argues that we learn from this text that Avraham wishes to emulate the Almighty, that is to be godly.

To be godly is to wish to be like God and to take responsibility for the world.

Avraham sees the 3 strangers and cares for their welfare as they travel exposed to the heat at the hottest time of the day.

Avraham desires to help these strangers, to offer them refreshment and shelter for a moment from the heat of the day.

Avraham sees being like God s more important that being with God!

What an amazing lesson!

This is surely what God wants from all of us. Not to wish that the peak of our existence is to commune with Him, but the peak of our being is to be as much like Him, as godly as possible and as a result to undertake ‘tikkun HaOlam’, that is, to undertake to repair the world, to take responsibility to do all within our power to impact the world for the better.

To be Godly, to be Holy!

This insight from “7 Traits: How to Change Your World” by Shalom Denbo.

The Yetzer HaRa and Yetzer HaTov

In Uriel Ben Mordechai’s new translation of Romans (principally from the earliest extant version we have, Papyrus 46 – circa 170 CE), we see the use of the Hebraic understanding of our nature consisting of two ‘hearts’, that is, of a fleshly heart and a spiritual heart; an evil inclination (the Yetzer haRa), and a good inclination, (the Yester HaTov).

http://www.above-and-beyond-ltd.com/store/books/if.html#kosher_paul

For much more on this and other Hebraic principles or Hebraisms, please see my articles on the Hebraic Mindset as circumcisedheart.info as well as my book ‘Doctrinal Pitfalls of Hellenism’.

Uriel essentially translates the Greek back into its Hebraic underpinning and perspective, and then into English (à la, Prof. David Flusser) so that the Yetzer haRa and Yetzer haTov are seen and explicitly referred to in Romans 2:17; 7:5; 8:4, 5, 6, 11,12,13, and in 8:26.
 Judaism understands from the Tanakh that man has two hearts, and two inclinations, an inclination to do good and an inclination to do bad. This Hebraic concept of ‘Yetzer HaRa’ and ‘Yetzer HaTov’ (the evil inclination and the good inclination) relates to the choice of the will to be faithful to God rather than follow the natural ‘lusts of the flesh’.
The origin of this understanding is that in Hebrew the singular for ‘heart’ (pronounced ‘lev’) is לב and the plural ‘hearts’ is sometimes spelt in more than one way such as לבבך or ֵלבבם or לבבות. If you look at the Sh’ma (starting at Deut 6:4) in a Hebrew Bible such as Hebrew-English Tanakh (Varda Books 2009) you will see the plural, לבבך in both verses 6 and 7.
This literally translates into English as: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your hearts, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your hearts …”
So some debate occurred within Israel religious scholars over the centuries about why the plural? The Talmud relates that their conclusion is that we have two hearts, a yetzer hatov and a yetzer hara (essentially a ‘fleshly heart’ and a ‘spiritual heart’). This is also clearly seen in the ‘Al Chet’ Prayer that is recited every Yom Kippur, where the 19th prayer is to pray for forgiveness “For the mistakes we committed before You with the Yetzer HaRa”.

Romans 8:4

Thus all who seek HaShem need to make the choice to follow the good heart rather than the fleshly heart. All who have ‘circumcised hearts’ are then aligning their ‘fleshly heart’ with their ‘spiritual heart’, and will inherit the Olam HaBah, the Kingdom of God.
The Apostle Paul calls the Torah spiritual in a number of places such as 1 Cor 10:3 and Romans 7:14. So for example, when Paul writes in 1 Cor 15:44 “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” he is speaking primarily on an individual basis of this choice that we all have – whether to be ‘born from above’, that is to follow our good inclination, to circumcise our hearts and have the ‘faith of Yeshua’ which is the ‘faith/faithfulness of Abraham’, or to remain alienated from God in allowing our ‘fleshly heart’ or evil inclination to lead us astray.
Mussar (Jewish ethics – see this short post for an introduction) teaches though that the ‘evil inclination’ is really also for our good because when recognized and alerted to, it can help us to recognize where our character falls short and what we need to correct to synchronize our ‘fleshly heart’ with our ‘spiritual heart’ so as to fully turn our whole being to HaShem.
So here is just two of the many references in Uriel’s translation:
Romans 8:4
“…so that the righteous verdict of the Torah can be satisfied in us who walk not in a manner conforming to “yetzer ha’rah,” but conforming to “yetzer ha’tov”.
Romans 8:
“6 The truth is that the perspective of the “yetzer ha’rah” is death, while the perspective of the “yetzer ha’tov” is life and shalom,
7 precisely because the mind bent on the tendency towards evil opposes G‑d with hostility. …”
Again, I strongly recommend Uriel’s version which can be purchased as a pdf from here –http://www.above-and-beyond-ltd.com/store/books/if.html#kosher_paul 

Continue reading

The Power of Vulnerability:

Brene Brown is a social researcher. She has a very powerful message to share that she has found through her research.

She argues that human “connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

From her research she divided people into two basic groups; those who have a strong sense of love and belonging (and thus feel connected), and those who really struggle for it (and thus feel disconnected).

And here’s the kicker, here’s her revelation from her research:

“The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.” 

She found that these people are “whole-hearted.”

That they had a sense of courage, where she uses the original definition of “tell(ing) the story of who you are with your whole heart.”, and thus having the courage to be imperfect.

They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others.

And “as a result of this authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they are, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.”

And they “fully embraced vulnerability.”

They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. This means that they have “the willingness to say, “I love you” first … the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees …”; the willingness “to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.”

Brene argues that vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

Yet, as she also discovered from her research we all have a tendency to numb our vulnerability, but the problem is “that you cannot selectively numb emotion.”

“You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, …”

Instead she argues that we need to accept our feelings of vulnerability because it means we are really alive, and we need to “believe that we’re enough.”

I strongly recommend you listen to her TED talk here.

In reflecting on this I see many ways in which our upbringing can predispose us to being in one group or the other.

With an upbringing by wise and loving parents we should grow into adults who have this sense of belonging and being worthy.

Yet there are many factors that work against this, not just our natural tendency to question and second-guess ourselves, and perhaps lack the confidence to be authentic due to peer pressure, etc., but a whole media push to constantly tell us we are not good enough without buying into the latest fad or getting the latest toy or gadget, etc., or being part of some special group that ‘has it all’.

Also, I suspect for many brought up in recent decades within a Christian environment, the false ‘Original Sin’[1] doctrine has been far from helpful here as it tries to convince people that they are at their core, and from birth, sinful and depraved beings with little hope of redemption without miraculous external support.

Rather Brene’s research rings so true with foundational Biblical principles. Consider the Sh’ma (Deut 6:4 …) for example and the two greatest commandments according to Yeshua.

 Sh’ma, Yisra’el:
“Listen, O’ Israel: YHVH is our God, YHVH is one!
You must love YHVH your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength.
These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up…”


And Leviticus 19:18: …love your neighbour as yourself; I am YHVH.

You cannot truly love your neighbour unless you love yourself. True love and devotion to the Almighty should also being the revelation that you are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made, and you cannot hope to give your all in loving God if you find yourself unworthy.

But you can change!

You can grow in acceptance of yourself; in being more authentic; in being ‘whole-hearted’ so that you can give ‘whole-heartedly’ to God!

For more please see my article ‘You Shall be Holy’[2] and my ‘The Ten Happiness Principles’[3] on Udemy.

Note:  
The two groups of people that Brene refers to are not those who are very gregarious and love being around others, compared with those who prefer a more solitary life. This was not the distinction she was making.

I think in this respect, there is also a lot going for the ‘solitary life’ or at the very least for times of peace and quiet and times of reflection away from the ‘madding crowd’, including family, etc. But Brene was instead contrasting 1) those who believe they’re worthy of love and belonging with 2) those who don’t.

Her argument is that those who don’t feel worthy are more likely to fall for addictions; to feel dis-connected (which is not at all the same thing as enjoying solitude), to struggle to find joy and happiness. Someone who feels worthy is more easily able to be vulnerable, and in turn such people are more easily able to ‘hear’ the lessons that God gives us every day and grow from them.

A lack of a sense of worthiness in turn leads to placing barriers and walls which not only lead to disconnection but inhibit any openness to growth and learning.

[1] See this excellent article for more on this very damaging doctrine – https://goo.gl/HVrhiF

[2] https://globaltruthinternational.com/2015/03/21/you-shall-be-holy-introduction/

[3] https://www.udemy.com/the-ten-happiness-principles/