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

You Shall Be Holy – Introduction

A series of commentaries on the soul:

Poetry, music, love, wonder – these things that have no survival value, but which speak to our deepest sense of being – all tell us that we are not mere animals, assemblages of selfish genes.

By bringing that which is animal within us close to God, we allow the material to be suffused with the spiritual and we become something else:

no longer slaves of nature but servants of the living God. – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (from a commentary on the Torah Portion Vayikra)

As ‘servants’ what does the living God ask of us? He asks that: ‘You shall be holy’.

This is your purpose for your life. This is your calling as a servant of the living God.

This is the advice from the Almighty. He has built into our very being, a desire to improve ourselves (and our surroundings). Yet, this urge can be mistaken as a drive for material possessions. It is instead, an innate drive to spiritual growth, to becoming holy.

In the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible – see in particular, Leviticus), the Hebrew word translated as ‘Holy’ is קָדוֹשׁ (qadosh) and  is an adjective, or an active verb and thus a state of being. The goal of holiness is an individual one, but it is also one which we are all, (and by ‘all’  I mean every single living human being), called to hear, even if that call is virtually deafened out by our chaotic lifestyles.

We were made incomplete. Deliberately so.

While we were made ‘very good’, and made in the image of the Almighty, He has deliberately made everyone of us less than complete, less than whole, so that part of our task in this life is to heal and complete ourselves, and in doing so, and as part and parcel of this task, we are called to heal or ‘repair the world’ (tikkun haOlam).

Full Holiness means wholeness.

In this sense then, all our weaknesses, our shortcomings and failings are deliberate, to the degree that we have been made with these less than perfect traits so that we do, in fact, have a job to do – the job of completing ourselves.

What is really challenging and almost unbelievable is that it is in fact possible to complete ourselves!

It is possible to gain that state of completeness, when a person becomes all that HaShem created him/her to be.

Sadly, most brought up in the Western tradition, and especially within the Christian community are taught to reject this fact, through the insidious and seriously harmful doctrine of ‘Original Sin’.

So how are we to become holy?

Firstly, we need to appreciate that we all have a life curriculum – the good, the bad and the ugly come our way to help mould us (if willing), to be the unique people G-d intended us to be and to be fully Holy. This ‘curriculum’ is daily before us whether we consciously choose to engage with it or not. It is impacting our lives, and hopefully in a positive manner whether we acknowledge it or not.

But learning of this ‘curriculum’ and being aware of its daily teachings can make the path to completing it, both smoother and quicker.

Surely, if we all realized we were in ‘school’ and working on a curriculum designed by the world’s best Educator (G-d Himself), to lead us to be the best person we could be and that we were designed to be, wouldn’t we want to complete the curriculum as quickly and effectively as possible!?

There is a spark of Holiness, a spark of divinity in every person. There is also every character trait in every person. As part of our “curriculum’ we each uniquely have some traits that we find more problematic than others, and that we need to work on more than others. We should not see these traits that we struggle with as bad or wrong or sinful, but as traits that need addressing so that ultimately they become under our control and in the proper balance.

The person who appears in general to be an extremely angry person, still has some moments of calm and some circumstances in which he/she has control over that anger. But also the calmest person has some degree of anger in him/her, some circumstances that really test his or her peace and serenity.

Anger can be bad, yet anger at injustice helps motivate us to try to correct that injustice.

A man with unbridled lusting for a women not his wife, is clearly acting in a sinful manner (it is breaking the 10th Commandment), yet this very Commandment implies that a man should lust after his own wife!

Lust (as in a ‘lust of life’) or desire is the true secret to a successful marriage. A marriage where that desire for each other is recognized and knowingly cultivated and maintained is a marriage that will survive.

All character traits can be shown to be beneficial if in the right balance and exercised to the right degree.

Imagine all the possible character traits on a continuum, such as anger and passivity being at opposite ends of a balance. Or humility and arrogance on a separate continuum. Imagine each and every character trait being on a continuum between the two extremes of that characteristic.

Inside us, in our inner-most soul is a light of divinity, a light made in the image and likeness of the Almighty that should shine out from us and brighten the world around us.

But also imagine the many character traits that are not in balance as ‘clouds’ that block that light or ‘sun’ that should be shining out from within.

As we mature and grow so that each trait moves towards being in the right balance, our inner ‘light’, our spark of divinity, shines out more strongly as the ‘clouds’ are removed.

As we work on ourselves and our traits, a trait’s balance then moves towards its proper centre, and the ‘black or dark cloud’ gets less and less opaque and more and more transparent.

With many traits to balance, the clouds can really block out the ‘sun’s rays’ (our inner light), the light that should be shining out from our core.

As we learn to improve ourselves and find the proper balance of our character traits and learn which are most problematic for each of us, and how we can learn to control and rectify/balance these traits, we should find that without any real and noticeable effort, our light shines brighter, and begins to impact those around us in positive and helpful ways.

So in seeking to complete ourselves, we quite naturally and effortlessly end up helping others to ‘see the light’ and in so doing perhaps help them to complete themselves.

Next: Dealing with the inner adversary, the Yetzer HaRa.

— to be continued —

This introduction and the articles to further and bring some depth to this overview are some reflections from Mussar instruction and other Rabbinic teachings.

The books that this series of short articles are primarily based on:

‘Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar’ by Alan Morinis.

10 Conversations You need to Have With Yourself’ by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Shalom in the Home’ by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

‘Kosher Lust: Love Is Not the Answer’ by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

‘God According to God: A Physicist Proves We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along’ by Dr Gerald L Schroeder

 

Leaving and Returning: Climbing the Mountain and Returning to Repair the World

This weeks Torah Portion is Parshah Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3). It contains the stories of Jacob’s leaving his family to live in the land of Laban and then returning to the land of Canaan to fulfil his destiny and continue the process of creating the Jewish People, a people called to be a Light to the Gentiles.

Rabbi Moshe Avraham Kempinksi has written an excellent article on this Torah Portion this week. In this article is states that “ There will be many times, that the people of Israel will need to leave the comfort of their spiritual existence and venture into the dangers of coping with a world that is both dangerous and menacing”. How true is this statement in this day and age!

This also reminded me of an article by Rabbi Ari Kahn which I quoted last month in my blog ‘Abraham, the Father of the faithful’:

Similarly, for the Jewish People to have an impact on the world, we must first disengage, separate ourselves, and fully explore our unique relationship with God.

There will be times when we must wrest ourselves away from our deep involvement, even our responsibility for the world. We must climb lofty mountains, even engage in divinely-mandated, though seemingly paradoxical, behavior. But we must always remember that eventually we must come down from the mountain, re-engage, return to the people that we left at the foot of the mountain. We must find the language and establish the relationship that will allow us to share with them what we learned at the summit.

The way we can accomplish our universal responsibility is by first becoming separate, different – as holy as we can possibly become. Only this will enable us to fulfill our mission of tikkun olam, to enlighten, to educate, to heal and repair the world.”

– See https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/10/25/abraham-the-father-of-the-faithful/

I think this rings true for all of us. We all need to take time out, to recharge our batteries, to re-connect with the Almighty, so that we can return to the fray, to the challenges of engaging with the world and trying to positively impact it.

Clearly our Maker knew this and so He created a special Day, the Sabbath for this very purpose. What a thoughtful and loving Father, Creator and King we have!

Moshe’s article is so good that I would really encourage you to read it in full. I have copied it below to make this easy for you:

Vayetze: Going Out (Israel National News – Published: Thursday, November 22, 2012 4:48 PM)

“And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”The Torah portion of VaYeitze begins with Jacob leaving one place ands with him leaving another. Yet the two words used to describe each “leaving” are vastly different.

When Jacob is leaving the land of Canaan,he is fleeing from his house. He was escaping from a brother who was set to kill him. He was running from a father who may have lost some measure of faith and confidence in his son. He was leaving without knowing when he was to return. And he was leaving into a land of the unknown, and into a future filled with challenges and doubt.

The verse tells us ” And Jacob left Beer sheba, and he went ( VaYeitzeh) to Haran.”( Genesis 28:10) In the midst of Jacob’s running away from Esau he sees the vision of the ladder to the heavens in a dream. In this vision he is promised by G-d , great things.

And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”( ibid :15)

When he returns from the land of Laban we read; “. So Jacob rose (vaYakam) , and he lifted up his sons and his wives upon the camels.” (ibid 31:17) This too occurs connected to a dream. Yet in Haran, it was a very different sort of dream.

And it came to pass at the time the animals came into heat, that I lifted my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the he goats that mounted the animals were ringed, speckled, and striped.”( ibid 31:10) As opposed to the spiritual dream of angels that he dreamt while still in the land, here Jacob dreams about physical goats and material acquisitions. The materialistic seduction of Chutz LeAretz- Exile – seems to have begun to affect Jacob as well. He understands that he needs to leave.

What is to be learned from those two differing words, Vayeitzeh ( and he went out) and Vayakam( and he arose) ?

When we read in the book of Deuteronomy, of G-d’s instructions regarding the going out to war .The verse reads: “Ki Teitzei LaMilchamah – If you shall go out to wage war against your enemy.” (Deuteronomy 21:10) The verse could have simply been, “If you shall wage war?”

The Torah wants us to remember that warfare is not harmonious with our inner essence. In order to go to war you must exit your oasis of spiritual and holy comfort. Yet his must be done only with the purpose of achieving goals of spiritual and national importance.

We see his again with Noah when G-d commands him the following;” ‘Go forth( Tzeh) from the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons’ wives with thee. … be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.’ ( Genesis 8:16-17).

We see it as well with Jacob’s leaving of the land of his forefathers. Jacob was destined to begin the creation of the Jewish people in the land of Haran. That necessarily involved the spiritual pain of VaYeitzeh.

That is not the case when Jacob leaves Haran. When he leaves the land of Lavan , he is escaping the quagmire of materialism, falsehood and idolatry. In order to do this he must rise up (VaKam) . He must gather his spiritual strength and courage in order to be able to continue to fulfill his destiny in the land of his forefathers.

There will be many times, that the people of Israel will need to leave the comfort of their spiritual existence and venture into the dangers of coping with a world that is both dangerous and menacing. That is what we learn from Jacob’s leaving and his returning. That is what going out to war- ki teitze el hamilchama teaches us. If one’s purpose and goal remains clear ,then the continuation of the verse becomes a promise “. If you go out to war against your enemies,… and Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hands...”( Deuteronomy 21:10)

When this piece was being written, it was still unclear if the Israeli defense forces were compelled to enter gaza or not. Yet the courage of going out from their homes and the courage of entering battles that need to be fought will hopefully bring about the Divine promise of protection. And either way, it is only a matter of time before they do.

It is just as Hashem promised Jacob in his personal “going out”.

“And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.” – see http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/12477#.UK8rNY6ZQsm

For more on the last scripture quoted and the restoration of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel I recommend the article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ at circumcisedheart.info.