fbpx

Constructive Conflict

Rabbi Gaines Constructive ConflictHuman-beings are a contentious bunch. Just ask any historian, or better yet, read your daily newsfeed (plenty of evidence there). Let’s face it; we all love a good fist fight, and, surprising as it may sound, the Torah (Bible) actually ok’s it! Explain the Sages, our need to challenge (our competitive spirit) has given rise to astonishing innovations, breakthroughs that have occurred precisely because we stood up and challenged the status quo. From a Torah perspective a little “duality,” a little healthy friction, is useful provided it’s growth-promoting. If so, we must ask the following: When does “constructive-conflict” (growth promoting confrontation) become destructive? At what point is the duel no longer beneficial?

Healthy sparring, explains the Talmud (Tactate Ta’anit), is likened to “Two knives sharpening each other.” To clarify, the friction caused by two “knives” (two sharp minds) “colliding” (disagreeing on a given topic) “sharpens” (matures) both parties regardless of who wins. Simply stated, if conflict is done right - with a Talmudic spirit - the parties engaged will emerge faster, sharper, and wiser. And here lies the great secret to achieving “sagely conflict”: always strive for truth. To constructively “do battle” and grow from a challenge, we must remember that it is never about us (our ego). It’s about discovery. It’s about chipping away at the proverbial stone, the barriers to our clear understanding, and finding the diamond (the spark of truth) within. Such an ability (setting aside ego in favor of truth) is termed “sagely” because it requires years of practice to achieve.

In the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, “We pray daily that God will grant us just a moment of authentic truth.” It’s that rare! So embrace your conflicts and remember, it’s only about the truth. 

Continue reading
  76 Hits
76 Hits

How To (at least) Act Righteous

Rabbi Gaines How to Act RighteousArousal (spiritual awakening) is a profound thing, for who can deny the mental, emotional, and yes, even physical impact, a sudden, “Now I see,” moment creates? Kabbalah teaches that far greater than service in a moment of deep arousal (during which one’s prayers, studies, and good deeds achieve optimal expression) is service from “limitation,” or, service derived from  struggle with one’s inner darkness (one’s personal limitations). To say it another way, anyone can boast spiritual accomplishment when the lands “flow with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 31:20), i.e. when the very highest levels of Divine consciousness flow effortlessly into one’s mind, heart, and limbs (as it is the nature of people to serve when feeling good). The challenge, explains Kabbalah, is service at “night,” i.e. in moments of constricted consciousness when God appears/feels far away (distant from the soul and body), for the maintaining of faithfulness in moments of uncertainty has always been a core virtue of the righteous. This idea is beautifully expressed in the Code of Jewish Law (the book governing religious Jewish life) wherein, we learn that the path of the righteous (elevated souls of the generation) is to constantly affix before their eyes King David’s immortal words, “I place God before me always” (Psalm 16:8). The simple meaning of the text suggests a service without “borders,” or, perpetual service that exists irrespective of the boundaries erected by subjective feelings (for “always” means ALWAYS, whether happy or sad, hot or cold, day or night). Hence, it is the righteous - the polished souls of the generation - who achieve such a lofty form of continuous and uninterrupted service (disconnected as they are from the limitations of ego, or subjective self). That being said, there is an important dimension to this teaching that any of us can achieve (irrespective of our level of soul), provided we learn to perceive “darkness” (challenge) from a slightly more elevated perspective. Explains the Ozer Eliyahu (student of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk), if we examine the above verse (Psalm 16:8) a little deeper, a remarkable idea emerges. The Hebrew word “L’negdi” (translated in English to mean “before me”) derives from the same Hebrew  root (“Neged”) as the word “against.” Factoring that into the equation, the above verse from King David (Psalm 16:8) can now be read, “I put God (even in) what’s against me always!” Meaning simply, I serve God even when I feel that the world is against me - when alien forces rise to challenge my spiritual progress. 

And what, then, is the lesson?

To serve God as the consummately righteous do (even if we do not possess, in truth, their lofty traits), we need only begin by taking a stance for God - for His principles - even when the world (within and without) acts “against” us (tells us it’s unpopular to do so).

So, rise one rise all, you warriors of God who walk the Divine path and care for our Master’s honor, for whether righteous or only striving to be, you can absolutely take a firm stance against the ever growing “L’negdi,” (“against” as explained above), in all of its forms - spiritual and physical. Remember, the rising tides of perversion and gross secularism (that threaten every sacred foundation upon which this, God’s world, is built), show no signs of slowing down. In fact, they are only growing stronger, bolder, and more capable. They are pushing, without remorse, into every imaginable institution. Why shouldn’t we, God’s soldiers, do exactly the same?

Continue reading
  220 Hits
220 Hits

Resisting Gravity

Rabbi Gaines Resisting GravityThe human being faces an intense contradiction. One the one hand, his body is made of earth - physical substance - and it’s the nature of earthly physical things to disassociate (pull apart). On the one hand, his soul (his core) is an agent of the most high, a “portion of God from above” (Job 31:2). The contradiction is rather obvious and it begs the question: How do such intense opposites, body and soul, coexist?

The answer, explain the Sages, lies in their seeking out commonality, or, their unification toward a common goal (motivated by a mutual interest). And what is the common “passion” that links our body and soul? God! Kabbalah explains that our physical needs/desires are nothing more then masks hiding a much deeper truth, that our all (our totality) needs God. You see, bodily passion in all of its forms, explains the holy Ba’al Shem Tov, is nothing more then an indicator as to where one’s spiritual mission lies. For example, a love of money (of accumulating wealth) has historically created a barrier to meaningful spiritual growth (hence, intensely spiritual people have renounced it). That being said, there is a story told of the holy Ari’zl, Rabbi Issac Luria, standing at attention before a wealthy man so as to give him honor. When questioned about his conduct, the Ari’zl explained that his standing before the wealthy individual was not, God forbid, to honor the wealth (the physical money itself) but, rather, its amazing potential - to fund houses of worship, educational institutions, and charitable programs focusing on a Godly objective! Hence, the physical passion for wealth and money need not be a spiritual antithesis, for its energy can become a “servant” of the soul (a useful tool to fulfill a Godly agenda). Explains the Ba’al Shem Tov, passions are nothing more then an indicator as to where man’s most valuable assets lie - which bodily powers/tools he can use to carry out the soul’s agenda - to build a Godly world. Be it the use of sexuality to bond (healthily) to one’s mate and build a family, or, the channeling of desire for food and drink toward honoring the Shabbat and festivals (by purchasing a rich assortment of meats, wines, and cakes for their honor), all passions can, potentially, be utilized for Divine service.

By fusing the needs of the body with that of the soul, we conquer “gravity,” the force pulling us downward toward a purely physical existence, and resolve their contradiction.

Continue reading
  345 Hits
345 Hits

Angel or animal?

Rabbi Gaines Angel or AnimalTwo thousand years ago the Great Sages made an astounding  observation: Animals tend to be built (structurally) facing the ground. Angels, in contrast, are described as facing upward, toward the heavens. Humans are the anomaly for they face neither downward toward the ground (like animals), nor upward toward the heavens (like angels), but only neutral - straight ahead. Why? Explain the Sages: because the human possesses choice; the choice to be as low as the animal or as high as the angel! Lesson? Life is about choices but from a Torah (Biblical) point of view there is really only one: Animal or angel? Which will we become? Will we elevate our physical consciousness  and choose a more spiritually refined  “angelic” existence, or, will we succumb to the conditioned “animal” within - our first unrectified nature? In the language of the Torah, “I have set before you (two paths), life and death, curses and blessings, choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Choose “life,” i.e. your higher angelic self!

Continue reading
  364 Hits
364 Hits

Simchat Torah

DaAti Simchat Torah“Shimini Atzeret,” Hebrew for “8th of the festival,” is also called (outside the land of Israel where the holiday is celebrated not one but two days) “Simchat Torah,” Hebrew for “Happiness of Torah.” Now our Sages explain that this holiday is uniquely celebrated not by study (the learning of Torah), but by dancing! In particular, we dance in circles around the bimah (wooden table upon which the Torah is placed when read), lifting our feet and voices in joyous celebration deep into the night. It is well known that even unto his advanced age, the Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Blessed Memory) would dance, without cessation, until the early morning hours! The Chassidic masters explain that the joy we cultivate (in ourselves and others) on Simchat Torah infuses the entire year - all the months ahead - with the deepest sense of happiness. And why is this elevated state of consciousness achieved, specifically, by dancing? Explains Chassidut, because what the mind can’t grasp and the mouth can’t articulate, the feet (their movement) can express! Simply put, dance enables us to tap into a Godly joy that can’t be limited, not by space and not by time. So dance, my brothers and sisters, late into the night. May the pounding of your feet express the Godly joy your limited faculties (mind and heart) can’t!

A healthy and most happy Simchat Torah to all!

Continue reading
  442 Hits
442 Hits

God’s Shelter

Rabbi Gaines SukkotSunday night begins the Biblical Holiday of “Sukkot,” a 7 day fastidious celebration commemorating God’s protection of the Israelites (via the “clouds of glory”) during their 40 year sojourn in the desert (see the book of Exodus). These “clouds”, explain the Sages, were as if a multidimensional shield that encompassed the people from every side. While in their midst (in God’s care) every worldly concern ceased, for heavenly food (called “Manna”) fell daily, clothes grew naturally (on the body) without the need for a tailor, and enemies (man and animal alike) were driven far away. In short, there was an absolute revelation that “God is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), not only in the heavens above, but also on the earth below. And this, then, is why the Torah (Bible) commands Israel to build Sukkot (“booths”) and dwell (for 7 days) in their midst, to remind us that no matter where a soul may dwell: north, south, east, west, up (in the heavens) or down (on the earth), God’s providence is found. Hence, we must never be afraid, for when we walk with God (knowing He is with us), deserts blossom, enemies prostrate, and beasts fall. So walk on and remember, you are never alone, not now, not ever.

Happy Sukkot

Continue reading
  517 Hits
517 Hits

Blog Archive Up