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Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

You deserve to enter the sanctuary

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What can possibly be the message from the outdated (and repeated, but that’s another matter) information about the construction of the Divine Sanctuary in the desert over 3000 years ago?

Here’s the deal - your life (like my life and like the life of everyone else you know) is filled with  extensive responsibilities, numerous expectations, demanding priorities and pressuring deadlines. With the advent of social media and smartphones this ongoing pressure continues unabated at all hours of the day and night. It’s no wonder that in recent years there has been a sharp rise in anxiety and depression…

The key to the solution can be found by examining the juxtaposition of two seemingly different ideas in this week’s Torah portion. At first glance, the fact that the instruction to build the Sanctuary in the desert is taught in tandem with the laws of Shabbat seems incongruous: What’s the connection between the two?

The classic answer to this question is that there is a link in the observance of the two - construction of the Sanctuary cannot violate the laws of Shabbat and we learn the 39 categories of Shabbat-prohibited activities from the types of work required in the Sanctuary's construction.

But there’s more to it. 

You see, our experience of the universe is defined by time and space; we exist in a certain time and take up a certain space. Time and space are both limiting and defining dimensions that each have their set of pressure that comes along with the experience. We’re limited by time and space - we can only accomplish so much in a certain amount of time and we can only be in one place at once.

To help relieve us of this limitation and to help us redirect our focus back to our primary purpose, the Torah provides for a unique sanctuary that we can enter and rejuvenate ourselves. In the dimension of time this is Shabbat and in the dimension of space this is the Sanctuary.

Shabbat enables us to maintain our equilibrium and not get completely swamped and overwhelmed by the external forces in our lives. It creates the space for us to recalibrate our existence and remain in control of our life. This provides us the ability to reconnect to the most important things in our life (hint: it’s not your iPhone) and the strength to face the week ahead.

In space too, we must have a sanctuary that we can retreat into. Back in the day this was the Holy Temple; today however we must create such a G-dly sanctuary in our homes. When we have a secure space that is our sanctuary we can then turn and engage with the world around us.

But there is one more obvious dimension and that is included in the living experience: our very selves. 

Within ourselves there is a built-in sanctuary to which we each have a personal, 24/7, all-access pass. That’s right, the soul is our personal sanctuary. It’s disengaged from the headaches of modern life and it’s not damaged by its encounter with the world. In order to remain healthy and productive human beings, in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the pressures of life, we have to reconnect with our soul.

These three dimensions that encompass the human experience; time, space and soul each have a sanctuary built into it. This week’s Torah portion reminds us to stop what we’re doing, extricate ourselves from the pressure around us and step into the sanctuary. In every dimension.  

Constructive stubbornness

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I think stubbornness is given a bad rap. Is it all that bad to be stubborn? 

We generally think of stubbornness as a negative trait - and it certainly could be misplaced and harmful. But if your stubbornness is leading you to make the right choice - even when you’re feeling uninspired, perhaps it’s not all that bad?

When dealing with others, it’s important to be flexible. We need to take their concerns into account and ensure that they are sincerely valued and appreciated. 

However, when it comes to upholding our Jewish values and principles, some irrational and unwavering stubbornness is the secret to success. 

In fact, the Torah describes the Jewish people as “stiff-necked”; basically the biblical way of saying “stubborn”. And despite being shared in a somewhat negative context, it’s not all that bad. In fact, it’s what has sustained us as a people all these years.

You’ve got to be a little “stiff-necked” to survive persecution by the Philistines, the Babylonians and the Persians. To be tormented by the Greeks and the Romans. You would need more than a little stubbornness to rebuild after the horrific devastation of the various Crusades and inquisitions. And there’s certainly fierce determination embedded in the DNA of our parents and grandparents who rebuilt after the Holocaust.

Yes, our stubbornness has served us well over the generations. Every single person born Jewish today owes that fact to multiple ancestors who refused to waver under any circumstances.  

Sometimes a little opposition calls out our determination; we have to learn to summon our inner positive stubbornness in less confronting circumstances too. Stick to what’s right no matter the fallout.

While it may take even more effort than resisting hostile opposition, it’s well worth the effort. Because without any hyperbole or exaggeration - it’s the key to Jewish continuity.

 

Purim is over the top!

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Purim is over the top! If you’ve ever properly celebrated Purim (especially with Chabad) you’d know that everything on Purim is done in an excessive manner. We don’t just listen to the story of Purim, we make sure to hear the entire story read twice; we don’t just share some food with a friend - we share at least two foods and usually with multiple friends. And we don’t just give tzedakah, we’re told to give to all who stretch out their hand. 

And while most Jewish holidays include a festive meal, on Purim we’re supposed to eat and drink in excess! Yes, that is how it is legislated in Jewish law.

Purim is over the top because it is not just a celebration of something that happened thousands of years ago. It’s not entirely about Haman and Achashverosh, or even Mordechai and Esther. That would be more like the other holidays we celebrate.

Purim is about us and our personal relationship with G-d. That’s why it’s over the top.

If it sounds like I still have some Purim liquor to work through, hear me out.

Mount Sinai was wondrous; it was the culmination of a miraculous year that included the Ten Plagues, The Exodus, The Splitting of the Sea and many sundry miracles along the way. Then at Mount Sinai, G-d proposed, as it were, to the Jewish people. G-d asked us and we obviously said yes. 

The truth is, how could we not. We owed so much to G-d - He had already invested so much into the ceremony, what else could we say?

But when the time of Purim came along, and life with G-d was not so rosy, were we willing to stick it out and stay by G-d? Or would we take the more pragmatic route and try to blend into society? 

When we chose to stay with G-d, this time without the heady influence of supernatural miracles and grand ceremonies at Mount Sinai, this is cause for a serious celebration!

On Purim we took ownership of our relationship with G-d; when we own something, we are more willing to invest in it. When it’s not entirely ours, we do what we need to but not more.

Purim is about our personal relationship with G-d and that’s why it’s over the top.

While the day of Purim may be almost over, the message of the day continues all the time. Invest in your personal relationship with G-d, the dividends are well worth it!

Give your life a raise

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The contemporary Jew has always faced a certain tension when trying to integrate Judaism with their modern lifestyle. And when we start reading about seemingly antiquated practices it certainly makes it all the more challenging. What, with discussions about the Tabernacle that the Jewish people built in the desert and the sacrifices that were offered there, I mean - seems to me like you couldn’t get more irrelevant than that!

Tabernacle? Sacrifices? Huh? How can that have relevance to me? Especially since it’s been destroyed and out of service for almost 3000 years.

Consider this however, if your life is like most people, it tends to be a whirl of activities and we’re often busy. There always seems to be something going on, whether it’s work, school or family responsibilities - or occasionally the required vacation. We never truly get a moment to reflect. 

But once in a while, on the rare occasion that we do have the opportunity to reflect, a gnawing sense of emptiness creeps in: what’s it all worth anyway? I work, often hard, long and difficult hours. True I earn the means to support myself and my family but what is it all about anyway - is this the entirety of it? Slave away until I wither away?

The Tabernacle narrative can shed some light and help us elevate our lives. In this week’s Torah portion we are introduced to the Grand Tabernacle Building Project headed up by Moses himself. And the very first item on the agenda? Of course, like any building project worth its salt, donations. 

The word used to refer to the donations (also the name of this week’s Torah portion) is significant: Terumah. It translates as donation, but truly it means much more than donation. It means elevation; to “raise up.” 

By contributing a portion of their wealth toward this holy building project, they elevated their money - and by extension - their lives. It demonstrated that their life was not simply a selfish experience, work and earn money for their own self centered purpose. Rather it included an elevated and inspired need too, the building of a home for G-d in this world.

By giving away a portion of their wealth they demonstrated that they are not the center of all, that there is a higher purpose, a higher calling. 

Their life was not just about them.

The key to creating a life that feels fuller and more worthwhile is to dedicate a portion of our wealth (and energy and time etc.) to a higher purpose. Giving tzedakah is not just about the recipient, it’s about the giver. And it’s the first step to relieving the tension that exists between the Jew and the world we inhabit. 

It's too legalistic

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It’s too legalistic! That’s the complaint lodged against Judaism for millennia; it’s not a recent thing. From the various denominations in the Jewish community to new age spiritual groups, they all have the same complaint. In fact the world’s largest faith, Christianity, began with the same complaint against Judaism - it’s too legalistic!

Truth is if you think about it, it does seem a little strange, doesn’t it? The Jewish people just encountered G-d in the single most profound spiritual experience ever. And now? Now they’re instructed regarding a litany of seemingly mundane laws.

Wouldn’t it have made more sense for them to strip themselves of their physical shell and meditate all day? Wouldn’t it have been more spiritual if they would have focused on the profundity and oneness of all existence rather than being confronted with their own physicality and fecklessness? 

The reality is that as spiritual as we may feel by undergoing whatever suggested form of meditation, or any other method of achieving spiritual advancement, it is all limited. The very most that we can accomplish by means of our own spiritual development is still entirely constrained by our limited self.

If it’s our meditation, or our work of any sort, it is always going to be limited to our personal capacity. And in relation to G-d, we are virtually nil. We cannot ever reach beyond ourselves - until, that is, we do so on G-d’s terms.

And that’s where the laws come into play. When we live our lives not as we please, but as G-d pleases - that is where the ultimate spirituality is found. That is where we discover the true Oneness. And it is specifically through the laws that we can grow beyond our limited physical existence and become truly one with G-d. 

Decentralized Torah

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Tell me, if you had a monumental task that needed to get done - something that was virtually impossible to accomplish on your own - would you recognize the need to delegate? Do you think it somehow shows deep insight to acknowledge as much?

I didn’t think so - it’s a relatively basic concept. One doesn’t especially need profound and significant insight to realize one person’s limitation. Wouldn’t you agree?

If that’s the case, consider this: Our Torah portion is named Yitro in honor of Moshe’s father in law who advised Moshe regarding how to teach Torah and judge the masses. Initially Moshe was handling it on his own - an obviously unwieldy and unrealistic endeavor. 

So Yitro advised Moshe to set up an organized system; if one had a question it would initially be addressed to a lower level leader, making its way up the chain of command all the way to Moshe, only if the answer had not been obtained from the lower tier judge.

One second, is this what Yitro is credited for? Did Moshe really need his father in law to inform him about the novelty of delegating? Why couldn’t Moshe understand this as well?

Obviously Moshe was not ignorant to this idea but he initially rejected it nonetheless. When a Jew would hear the Torah from Moshe, when a dispute was addressed to Moshe, the individuals in question would be elevated by their interaction with such a Divinely inspired individual as Moshe. As a result of being spiritually raised by Moshe, their confusion or dispute would resolve itself.

Yitro, coming from a physically and spiritually distant place, understood that something even deeper and more profound was necessary. The Torah had to connect with the “real” world too - not just Moshe’s elevated reality.

This idea, among many others included in the narrative regarding the giving of the Torah and the revelation on Mount Sinai, underscore the message of the centrality of decentralized Torah study. While Torah is Divine wisdom and must remain faithful to G-d’s will in order to be authentic, it needs to be connected to our lives and the reality in which we live - not only in the elevated reality of Moshe’s world.

In short, we need to discover personal relevance in the Torah.

 

Rational Irrationality

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Photo by timJ on Unsplash

Although we like to think of ourselves as rational people, the truth is we’re not. Before you get defensive, consider that the advertising industry spends hundreds of billions of dollars per year to make products look attractive - not to explain the virtues and value of the products they’re promoting. 

We make all sorts of decisions that are irrational; which type of smartphone to use or which car to drive, which type of house to live in and sometimes even the utmost of irrationality: to buy timeshares. Yet when it comes to matters of holiness, when it comes to doing a mitzvah, we start to rationalize. 

Wouldn’t it be hypocritical to do this, if I don’t do that? How can I keep kosher, it’s so much more expensive? We find every rationalization to explain to ourselves why it’s ok that we aren’t as observant as we truly want to be.

You know what the solution is? We have to treat our relationship with G-d just like we treat our relationship with the physical world: Irrationally. 

In other words, do what we know is right even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. 

And just like we can rationalize our physical choices after the fact, our divine service will begin to make much more sense. And unlike irrational purchases we won’t be left with any debt - only credit. 

This attitude of using the physical world and its attitudes to advance G-dliness and spirituality is the hallmark of the Rebbe’s approach. Tonight and tomorrow is the 10th of Shevat, the anniversary of the start of the Rebbe’s leadership, an excellent time to highlight his approach. 

While some parts of the Jewish world might work to avoid modern technology and its use (for fear of it’s potentially harmful influence), the Rebbe’s approach is to find a way to harness it for a higher purpose.

This is truly the key to ushering in the era of redemption. The Jewish belief in Moshiach (Messiah) is not about drastically changing the world from the way we know it. It’s about the same world we know and love being elevated and infused with G-dliness. 

And this is what we accomplish every time we use worldly attitudes for holy purposes.

 

Release the passion

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Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash 

Without exaggeration, the most important key to success is to always learn and grow. It’s not enough to simply be open to new ideas - that just means filtering new ideas through decisions we’ve already made and perspectives we’ve already developed.

Pots, pans, tools and the like need to be set and cured; once they’re made they need to be locked in place so that they don’t change with use. Humans, however, are different. In order to succeed, they need to constantly grow and develop; humans need to adapt and change.

A great way of ensuring your continued success, in whatever it is that you are doing - living, parenting, working or even retired, is to read. Many books have wonderful insight but there are none as deep and profound as the Torah. (If your perception of the relevance of Torah is from 6th grade in Hebrew School, it’s time you dusted it off and studied it as an adult.)

In this week’s Torah portion we continue the Exodus story, particularly regarding the first 7 of the 10 plagues. The plague narrative is more than about recounting the events that contributed to the devastation of Egypt, they are also guideposts for each of us to eliminate our own internal “Egypt”; the negative traits that limit us and distract us from achieving our purpose in life.

The 7th plague was that of hail. But this was no ordinary kind of hail - it had fire burning inside it! That’s right - miraculous hail. What can we learn from this peculiar combination of fire and ice?

Too often we concern ourselves with our own needs - at the expense of the needs of others. While we are passionate about things that are important to us and we pursue those things with much effort and enthusiasm, we can be distant and impatient with others; we act cold and indifferent to their needs. Just like the hail - fire on the inside and ice on the outside - we are passionate about our own agendas and indifferent to the priorities of those around us.

True success comes when we are able to “melt the ice” towards others; when we can be passionate about the concern of others too, not only our own. When we realize there is more than us and our agenda, we are able to grow and achieve much more than we could on our own.  

Can we get out of this?

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Photo by ElevenPhotographs on Unsplash 

On July 20th, 1969, the Soviet propaganda machine was faced with a unique challenge: how to report the news that the US had effectively won the Space Race while maintaining Soviet “dignity”. 

Here’s what they came up with: For the past 10 years all the world's superpowers have been engaged in an intense Space Race. The race was won yesterday with the Soviet Union coming in second place and the United States coming in second to last. (Remember, there were only two nations engaged in the Space Race at the time.)

When someone has a certain agenda, they can distort anything - even what they see with their own eyes - to maintain their bias. 

Events this week once again confirm this truth; while just about all agree that what happened at the US Capitol on Wednesday was absolutely egregious, everyone seeks to blame someone else. 

The right blames the left, the left blames the right. I’ve seen religious people blaming secularism and the secular blame the religious. Oh, and of course, the media - there must be a way to vilify the media. The one thing on which everyone seems to agree is that it’s not their fault, it’s not them who has to change.

Here’s the thing, as long as someone else is at fault I can’t be expected to do something about it. After all, they’re the one who has to change. 

There are certainly important matters that need to be considered by those who are in positions of responsibility. But those matters are out of our hands and fretting or arguing about it is simply a waste of energy. 

For most of us our role is much more limited; yet entirely in our control. And we don’t have to wait for anything outside to change. 

This week we began studying the book of Exodus. While the Exodus itself took a short while, the process of the newly freed Israelites becoming a free people took forty years!

The real work is internal; how do we manage ourselves? How do we ensure that the insanity ravaging our country doesn’t infect our lives?

The only real way to do this is to develop a spiritually focused life. To focus on our connections with each other and our connection with G-d. No matter what takes place outside, we can and must, reach in and nurture our soul. 

This is how we will heal ourselves and thereby our circle of influence and by extension the rest of the world too.

 

Chanukah is the most important holiday

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Chanukah is the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar. More meaningful than Yom Kippur and more significant than Passover. 

Give it a few months, Passover will be the most important. And when the time for Yom Kippur comes around, it is clearly the most meaningful holiday on the Jewish calendar. 

But right now, Chanukah takes center stage. 

Yes, Chanukah is a post-biblical holiday but there is nothing minor about it at all. Especially today, when the world seems so dark, the message of Chanukah has all the more relevance. 

Let’s count some of the ways:

1) The name of the holiday, Chanukah, is derived from the word Chinuch, which means inauguration; Chanukah commemorates the re-inauguration of the Holy Temple after its defilement by the Syrian-Greeks. No matter how bleak things may seem, with sincere dedication and commitment it can always be turned around.

2) The same word, Chinuch, is the Hebrew term for education. Chanukah is about initiating and educating our family - and ourselves - in the ways of Torah and holiness.

3) Chanukah also teaches us the power of light to overcome the darkness. Darkness is not chased away with a stick, it disappears with the simple act of illumination. In our own lives, don’t fight the darkness - spread  light instead.

4) One light is good for today but not enough for tomorrow. Each day we have to grow and increase our efforts in the realm of goodness and kindness. Don’t be satisfied with who you were yesterday because today it is obsolete.

And of course, to implement any of this requires a focused Maccabee-like attitude, not allowing external societal pressures to dictate how we live our life. 

And there is so much more! There is so much significance connected to Chanukah, much more than latkes and dreidels. Let us spend the holiday of Chanukah applying these messages in our day to day life.

Don’t let anyone tell you that Chanukah is just a minor holiday!

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah! 

Yes, 2020 is the perfect year to be thankful

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Thanksgiving is likely the American holiday most closely aligned with Jewish values. And this year, especially considering all the craziness that has recently played out, is definitely the perfect time to be thankful.

Yes, there’s much about which to gripe but that shouldn’t get in our way of recognizing the blessings too. I mean, when President Lincoln instituted a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens" in 1863, it was still in the middle of the Civil War for goodness sake!

Which highlights a profoundly different perspective of the entire concept of Thanksgiving; it’s not (only) about appreciating the openly good aspects of our life, it’s also about recognizing the blessings within the difficulty that we face too.

We read in this week’s Torah portion about Jacob our forefather who suffered for years under his father in law Laban. Laban was a duplicitous and conniving individual who rescinded every agreement that didn’t result to his benefit. Jacob suffered under Laban for 20 bitter years, constantly being duped and lied to.

Why did Jacob have to endure these 20 difficult years? Chassidic thought explains that Jacob’s experience with Laban was in order to extract “sparks of holiness” that were hidden by Laban. In other words, there was a benefit to be found in all of Jacob’s suffering.

In our own lives too, it’s important to remember that when we experience difficulty, the entire purpose of these setbacks and obstacles are to enable us to grow.

Thanksgiving is not only about recognizing the open blessings in our life (and we all, without exception, have many for which to be thankful); it’s also about realizing that the challenges we face enable us to grow.

Instead of being cynical about Thanksgiving 2020, or bemoaning our current situation, it’s time we discover the inner strength and fortitude we each have.

Now is a good time to step up and express what our recent experiences have taught us, and that’s worthy of true thankfulness and gratitude.

Even better, use that gratitude as a stepping stone to implement positive change in your environment.

Getting unstuck

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It’s typical to withdraw inwardly when feeling down and out of sorts. When feeling sick, most people spend their time alone, away from others and caring for themselves. This is also the case when people are feeling mentally depleted, overworked or down - for whatever reason. 

While there are times that what’s needed is to indulge in some down time and reset, often the excessive focus on oneself can actually perpetuate the funk, leaving the individual worse than where they started. 

Counterintuitive though it might be, the solution is to work for the benefit of others. When something is highlighted and brought into clearer focus, it’s flaws are magnified as well. Withdrawing brings the focus on oneself and makes us all the more aware of our own frailties and failings. 

Shifting to consider how we can bring benefit and blessing to another swings the focus away from us and getting stuck in our “stuff”. More importantly, it elevates us to another level at which our issues are not true obstacles. 

With our close focus on ourselves, every bump is perceived as an obstacle. Raising above the self to focus on others helps us keep the inevitable bumps in perspective and realize how little they truly can interfere. 

On that note, it’s relevant to mention how our Torah portion begins; Abraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent searching the horizon for potential guests. Notable is the fact that he was then recovering from his circumcision, having been commanded by G-d at the age of 99. 

While certainly he could have been excused from hosting guests for a few days, he would not allow his discomfort to stop him from looking out for others. 

If you’re feeling down, consider how you can bring benefit and joy to another. The sooner you think about another, the sooner you’ll feel better about yourself. 

Can you tolerate the "other" side?

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I was very disturbed by what I saw recently. Someone forwarded to me a clip of two television personalities discussing how they had severed relationships with people who didn’t agree with them politically. I’ve seen it up close as well, people cutting from their lives those who don’t agree with them politically.

I fully understand the concerns that people have with the various differing opinions. I understand what is pushing people to vote one way or another. But I cannot accept that any political decision is worth denouncing another individual or cutting them from your life.

This poisonous attitude is not exclusive to one side or the other but it is a result of a number of converging factors. One cause is certainly the over-the-top rhetoric that has become so common in modern political discourse. The second factor and perhaps the more dangerous of the two, is the unspoken notion that the way politics unfold or who wins the elections, is supremely important in my life. 

It is not my intention to minimize the significance of the various policy differences on the ballot; of course they matter and that’s why we vote. But if you’ve found yourself hating the “other side”, if you can’t tolerate someone with a different opinion, if your view of another is diminished due to their political choice, it’s high time for an intervention. 

Someone once put it to me this way - what’s happening in the White House is not relevant to your house. 

Yes, yes, I know - but taxes! And health care! COVID!! How could I say it’s not relevant to my house!?

Sure, government policies affect all of us. But they should never be the driver of our lives. What the government does or doesn’t do shouldn’t affect my ability to live my life. And if you’re so distraught about politics that it’s affecting your ability to live, it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities. 

The guiding forces in our lives should be values that are not dependent on the occupant of the White House (or any other political office). It’s imperative to elevate our life with a value system that transcends the world of politics - and for that matter, one that transcends the trials and tribulations of daily life. 

Our introduction to our forefather Abraham in this week’s Torah portion provides some guidance in this regard. The name Abraham (at this point in the narrative still known as Abram) connotes a connection with supernal wisdom. His life was guided by a higher set of values than anything contained in this world. That’s why he never feared the challenges he faced - and they were many - his true existence was above the fray of daily life. That’s how he managed to navigate life so well.

It’s virtually impossible to maintain perspective when we’re inside the maze of life. We need to be able to rise above in order to successfully navigate our way through. 

This is true with regard to politics and it’s true with regard to all aspects of life - in order to succeed, we must remain connected above.

Is life hard?

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“Life is hard.” Anyone ever told that to you when you were having a tough time? Didn’t help make it any easier, did it? 

“Think that’s bad, you wouldn’t believe what happened to me!” This one may be an even worse response. Hearing about other people’s troubles doesn’t make yours any easier to cope with, right?

So what can help us through the tough times? What can help us overcome, rather than be overwhelmed? What can empower us to achieve our goals even after we’ve been knocked down?

The answer is embedded in this week’s Torah portion, Noah.

You might have learnt the narrative of The Great Deluge recounted in this week’s portion as some sort of fairy tale, you might view it as an entertaining movie; however it’s included in the Torah and is therefore not only accurate but perhaps more importantly - a valuable lesson for us. 

Whatever the case, you really should see in it the story of your life.

Think about it - in the beginning there was this idealistic, perfect world. Everything was wonderful for a while but over time reality set in, human nature went awry until it came to the point that G-d decided to completely reset the whole thing. He brought the flood and destroyed the world; save Noah, his family and a sampling of all animal life.

Then, after Noah exited the ark, G-d told him something very strange. G-d promised never to do it again; never again will G-d destroy the world. G-d even made a covenant with Noah regarding it - He showed Noah the sign of the rainbow as His way of remembering this covenant.

Let me ask you a simple question however - why should this time be different? It would seem that G-d is (so to speak) being a little naive. I mean, how can we know how things will be in a few generations? Maybe 10 generations down the line humanity will have once again deteriorated to the point that destruction will once again be necessary?! Why would G-d pledge to never again destroy the world? If it happened once, couldn’t it happen again?

Here’s the point - initially G-d created the world on His terms according to His high standards; it wasn’t fully aligned with the reality of the fallible human beings that inhabited it. After the flood, the world was recalibrated as it were to fit with humanity. This newly aligned world wasn’t under threat of being destroyed because it took into account the possibility for mistakes to happen and it included a contingency for when they would.

In other words, the world as it was initially created, in it’s idealistic state, wasn’t viable and needed to be reset. The world after the flood integrated the G-dly ideal in a way that was - and still is - sustainable.

What emerges from this understanding is that in truth, the narrative of The Great Deluge is not one of destruction and devastation - it’s primary message is one of hope and inspiration: there is purpose in the setbacks. There is long term success embedded in short term failure.

Being told that life is hard doesn’t make it easier to overcome the hardship; being told about other people’s challenges doesn’t make it easier to overcome your own. But finding the lesson and meaning in the setbacks - that gives us the ability to create a long term model of success. 

Less than a speck of dust

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Have you ever considered the vastness of the universe? It makes you feel kinda small and insignificant, doesn’t it? Think about this: Imagine if Grand Central Station were filled from the floor to the ceiling with dust, one speck of dust would be roughly equivalent to the size of earth. And each one of us are basically like a seventh of a billionth of that speck of dust. That’s without even taking into account the unpopulated areas of earth - not to mention the plants, animals etc.

That’s mind-bogglingly insignificant.

But that’s not the whole story. You see, the Torah begins with the creation narrative. And however you choose to understand it, one thing is certain: G-d brought the world into existence. The entire universe was created before humanity was brought on the scene.

And this points to how mind-bogglingly significant we actually are. From G-d’s point of view.

While our world may be equivalent to a tiny speck of dust, G-d decided that all of existence is worth it for what we can accomplish during our time inhabiting this tiny speck.

All of existence was brought into being so that we could partner with it’s Creator in perfecting this world.

It’s a mighty powerful idea with massive implications. Think about it.

It means we have inherent value, every single one of us. It also means that G-d is invested in our success, He doesn’t want us to accept failure - our own personal failure - as final. We always have the ability to turn our life around and our biggest cheerleader is G-d.

Powerful ideas indeed. 

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