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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.

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.

 

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