Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Why Did Hashem Imbue a Wicked Gentile with Prophetic Powers on par with Moshe’s?


Parashat Balak

Keeping Ourselves and the Others Alive by Seeing the Good
Since I began primary school, it was discovered that I was farsighted, because I had trouble reading the blackboard. Even after the ridge of my nose became bespectacled with a pair of disdained glasses, I still needed to sit in the front row to be able to follow the lessons. The sense of vision – which is the sense of the month of Tamuz – is so vital, that a blind person is considered as dead (Babylonian Talmud 64b). Yet, there are many nuances of both physical and spiritual vision. The right eye is supposed to be the good eye, with which we connect to spiritual vision, viewing reality from the Divine perspective, and seeing the good points in others. It hit me, that I must have a lot of work to do in this area, since I was afflicted with a severe eye infection, specifically in the right eye, on the eve of Rosh Chodesh Tamuz. Always looking for the good, in ourselves and in others, can be very challenging. Perfectionistic people, like me, who want to better themselves and the world, naturally focus on what needs to be improved. If we could only integrate the lesson, that by focusing on the good, we actually cause everything we see to become better, as I will explain below. Seeing the good enables us to keep ourselves and the objects of our vision alive. This is because, the good points within every living being, are sparks of the Divine life force. By searching out the good, we emulate Hashem, as it is Hashem’s way to look at the good that we do, even if some of our actions are not good. We learn this from the Torah verse in Parashat Balak, “He has not seen iniquity in Ya’acov” (Bamidbar 23:21). Likewise, we need to give the benefit of the doubt, even to a completely wicked person, because it is impossible, that no good point can be found in him. Likewise, we need to find good points in ourselves. Even when we feel really bad about ourselves, we need to look at ourselves in a different light and search from within all the negative, for some good points, in order to revive ourselves” (Rebbe Natan of Breslev, Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Techumin v’Aruvei Techumin 6:11).

The Dichotomy of Vision in Parashat Balak
As we proceed further into the zenith of the month of Tamuz – the month for rectifying our eyes – we read about this dichotomy of vision in Parashat Balak. The visual theme, which is the red thread of the parasha, is completely shrouded in mystery. How can it be, that Bilam, the gentile prophet who was blind in one eye, the eye with which we connect to the spiritual world, is compared to Moshe in prophetic powers? “In Israel, there was no prophet like Moshe…” (Devarim 34:10), but amongst the non-Jewish nations, there was... i.e., Bilam (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 14:20). Why would Hashem endow a wicked anti-Semite with prophetic powers? If Bilam was such a great prophet, then why did only his donkey – known to be a coarse materialistic animal – see the angel blocking their way, while Bilam remained oblivious? Lastly, why did the most beautiful blessings exude from the mouth of Bilam, whose main objective was to harm Israel with vile curses?
Women’s Power of Protection
Chassidic commentaries give us a clue as to why Bilam was unable to place his evil eye on Israel, because, thank G-d, the Children of Israel belong to a protected species: 

ספר במדבר פרק כד פסוק ב וַיִּשָּׂא בִלְעָם אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל שֹׁכֵן לִשְׁבָטָיו וַתְּהִי עָלָיו רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים:

“Bilam raised his eyes and saw Israel dwelling according to its tribes and the spirit of G-d rested upon him” (Bamidbar 24:2) 

Rashi explains that, when Bilam “raised his eyes,” he sought to cast an evil eye upon Israel. The root of his evil eye is that whenever he would look at something, he would separate it from its upper root, which is the source of blessing. By eagerly desiring everything in the physical world for himself, he only looked at the exterior object of his craving, thereby separating it from its upper root in the source of life. This explains why, whatever Bilam would look at, would become infected by evil curses, since it was being detached from its lifegiving root (Avodat Yisrael, Parashat Pekudei). Yet, just as when Ya’acov placed his sons behind their holy mothers to protect them from Esav’s evil eye (Bereishit 33:1), so did the holy women of Israel, who were connected with their inner vision, protect the Children of Israel from Bilam’s evil eye (Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, Agra d’Kala, Parashat Balak). The dedication and emunah of the Israelite women became a spiritual fence, protecting Israel from the spiritual poison of Bilam’s evil eye. When, we women walk in the footsteps of our holy mothers, by developing positive spiritual vision, looking at the inner essence of all – at the Divine power that imbues everything with life – then, we too will attain their power of protection. 

Why was Bilam Blind in only One Eye?

ספר במדבר פרק כד פסוק ג וַיִּשָּׂא מְשָׁלוֹ וַיֹּאמַר נְאֻם בִּלְעָם בְּנוֹ בְעֹר וּנְאֻם הַגֶּבֶר שְׁתֻם הָעָיִן:
(ד) נְאֻם שֹׁמֵעַ אִמְרֵי אֵל אֲשֶׁר מַחֲזֵה שַׁדַּי יֶחֱזֶה נֹפֵל וּגְלוּי עֵינָיִם:
He took up his parable and said, "The word of Bilam, the son of Beor and the word of the man with a gouged-out eye. The word of the one who hears G-d’s sayings, who sees the vision of the Almighty, fallen yet with open eyes." (Bamidbar 24:3-4)

Rashi brings two interpretations of the phrase שְׁתֻם הָעָיִן/shetum ha’ayin – 1. ‘Of the open eye’ 2. ‘Blind in one eye.’ However, he concludes, “by saying, “with an open eye” rather than “with open eyes,” teaches us that he was blind in one eye (Rashi, Bamidbar 24:3, quoting Sanhedrin 105a). Most commentators agree that Bilam was blind, specifically in his right eye – the eye with which we look at the world through ‘G-d-colored glasses.’ He could only see through his left eye – the eye of judgment which separates everything from its spiritual root. When Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, two kinds of looking were conceived: The right eye became the eye of kindness, whereas the left eye became the eye of judgment. We learn this from the verse, “Both their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Bereishit 3:7). Since then, the average person looks with both of his eyes, reflecting our negative and positive inclinations, respectively. However, both eyes of Moshe, the antipode to Bilam, were eyes of kindness, as it states, “…that he was good,” (Shemot 2:2). Because, his eyes saw beyond this physical world of division and deterioration, Moshe’s eyes never dimmed, even when he turned 120! (Devarim 34:7). We also learn that Moshe had two right eyes from the fact that “his eye” is written in singular language, for he had double vision of the right eye. Since Moshe Rabbeinu perceived spiritual revelation and saw everything with clear Divine vision, without any distortion whatsoever, even in this world, his eyes never became dim. Hashem created us as regular people, with two eyes, to allude to the fact that there are two kinds of seeing, with the right or the left – the world-to-come or this world. Since the vision of the eyes depends upon the heart, there are also two chambers in the heart. “The heart of the wise to his right, whereas the heart of the fool is at his left” (Kohelet 10:2); (Based on Shem M’Shemuel). We have the choice between looking at the negative lack with judgmental eyes like Bilam, or to elevate our eyes to focus on the good, beyond this world of division, like Moshe. 

Why was Bilam, with his Gross Soul, Granted Prophetic Powers?
I believe that the reason Hashem granted Bilam prophetic powers on par with Moshe’s, despite his spiritual blindness, was to disprove the mistaken outlook, that there exists two equal spiritual powers battling for dominion: the Divine power of good, versus the Satanic power of evil. Moshe Rabbeinu was G-d’s ambassador in the world, while the sorcerer, Bilam, the son of Be’or, represented the dark powers of the Satan. The Torah teaches us that ultimate power is not divided between the forces of good and evil, but that all power belongs to the One and only unified G-d. He is the Creator of both light and darkness, including the dark powers, in order to imbue humanity with free choice. He extended this free choice also to the nations. Therefore, he granted them a prophet, with prophetic powers equal to even Moshe, our teacher. This was also so that the non-Jews would have no opportunity to claim, ‘if we would have been led by a prophet on the level of Moshe, we would have served G-d, too. Opposed to Moshe, Bilam received his prophetic powers though the forces of impurity, that G‑d allows to govern part of nature. Yet, this power has no independent authority at all. It is but an agent of G‑d, Who in His unlimited power, can bestow it upon even the lowest beings. Bilam, with his evil eye, haughty spirit and gross soul (Pirkei Avot 5:11), was considered even lower than his donkey, who beheld the angel while Bilam was unaware. Nevertheless, according to the will of the Almighty, the vile curses, of the evil Bilam, were transformed into the most beautiful blessings. Hashem even opened the eyes and mouth of the coarse, material donkey, as well as the gouged-out eye of Bilam, in order to verify, once and for all, that spiritual power belongs to Hashem alone, and He grants it to whoever He pleases.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Healing the Serpent Within


Parashat Chukat 

Why does A Serpent Represent the Medical Profession?          

I grew up with parents who were both medical doctors. I vividly recall the special sign, on the back of their car, near the license plate, depicting a serpent wrapped around a pole, with initials that meant Danish medical doctor. All physicians in Denmark needed to display such a sign on their car, as I was told, in case of an emergency or road accident. Then people would know who to turn to for immediate help. I often wondered why this symbol of a serpent represented the medical profession and how the serpent was connected to healing. I later found out, that whereas, the Danish sign consists of one serpent wrapped around a pole, in the USA, the sign consists of two intertwined serpents on a winged pole. The latter also called the caduceus, is actually the traditional symbol of Hermes, from Greek mythology. He is believed to be the ‘merchant god’ in charge of travel and commerce and is also associated with negotiation, liars, thieves, eloquence, and wisdom. So, he was not the ‘god of healing’ at all. His winged shoes, supposedly, helped him travel fast. The Danish sign reflects the symbol of medicine in Greek mythology, called the Rod of Asclepius – believed to be the ancient ‘Greek god of healing.’ Likewise, the ancient Sumerians had a ‘snake god of healing’ entwining around an axial rod, symbolizing a tree of life. Snakes, with their stillness, mysterious venom, and supposed powers of self-renewal, through shedding their skin and appearing young again are always going to inspire wonder. Perhaps, it was believed that the snake could heal itself of aging, and all other ailments, as well. Possibly, these ancient idol-worshippers thought the snake knew the secret to eternal life. Yet, what is the Jewish view on the healing power of the serpent? What is thisנְחַשׁ נְחשֶׁת /Nechash Nechoshet – “copper snake,” that Moshe made to heal the Israelites from the snakebites of the serpent, all about? Ever since I entered Yeshiva in 1980, and learned about the copper serpent, I’ve been puzzled about why this serpent would heal the Israelites, and why a snake who brought death and mortality to the world became a symbol of healing?
Why Did the Israelites Complain About the Manna?
In order to shed light on the connection between the serpent and healing, let us explore the story of the copper serpent as depicted in Parashat Chukat:

במדבר פרק כא פסוק ה וַיְדַבֵּר הָעָם בֵּאלֹקִים וּבְמשֶׁה לָמָה הֶעֱלִיתֻנוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם לָמוּת בַּמִּדְבָּר כִּי אֵין לֶחֶם וְאֵין מַיִם וְנַפְשֵׁנוּ קָצָה בַּלֶּחֶם הַקְּלֹקֵל: (ו) וַיְשַׁלַּח הָשֵׁם בָּעָם אֵת הַנְּחָשִׁים הַשְּׂרָפִים וַיְנַשְּׁכוּ אֶת הָעָם וַיָּמָת עַם רָב מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל: (ז) וַיָּבֹא הָעָם אֶל משֶׁה וַיֹּאמְרוּ חָטָאנוּ כִּי דִבַּרְנוּ בַהָשֵׁם וָבָךְ הִתְפַּלֵּל אֶל הָשֵׁם  וְיָסֵר מֵעָלֵינוּ אֶת הַנָּחָשׁ וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל משֶׁה בְּעַד הָעָם: (ח) וַיֹּאמֶר הָשֵׁם אֶל משֶׁה עֲשֵׂה לְךָ שָׂרָף וְשִׂים אֹתוֹ עַל נֵס וְהָיָה כָּל הַנָּשׁוּךְ וְרָאָה אֹתוֹ וָחָי: (ט) וַיַּעַשׂ משֶׁה נְחַשׁ נְחשֶׁת וַיְשִׂמֵהוּ עַל הַנֵּס וְהָיָה אִם נָשַׁךְ הַנָּחָשׁ אֶת  אִישׁ וְהִבִּיט אֶל נְחַשׁ הַנְּחשֶׁת וָחָי:  י

“The people spoke against G-d and against Moshe, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this desert, for there is no bread and no water, and we are disgusted with this rotten bread.’ Hashem sent against the people the venomous snakes, and they bit the people, and many people of Israel died. The people came to Moshe and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against Hashem and against you. Pray to Hashem that He remove the snakes from us.’ So, Moshe prayed on behalf of the people. Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Make yourself a serpent and put it on a pole and let whoever is bitten look at it and live.’ Moshe made a copper snake and put it on a pole, and whenever a snake bit a man, he would gaze upon the copper snake and live” (Bamidbar 21:5-9). 

Moshe was able to gain forgiveness for all the various sins and complaints of the Israelites in the desert, through his prayer, except for the complaint about the manna. What was so terrible about that sin, for which the Israelites were punished with poisonous snakes? This time the complaint of the Israelites were not because of a lack. Unlike other times, when their complaints had a point – there was no bread or water – here they had the manna and they had Miriam’s well that returned in the merit of Moshe. Then, why did they complain that they didn’t have “bread and water?” They were not happy with the kind of nourishment they received. They loathed the manna, which they called “this לֶּחֶם הַקְּלֹקֵל/lechem hakelokal – light or rotten bread.” They disdained this light bread, which felt like it was nothing, because it was miraculously absorbed in their limbs (and not excreted) (Rashi, Bamidbar 21:5). 

What is the Grave Sin of the Israelites that Evoked Venomous Snakes?

The immense flaw of the Children of Israel was that they didn’t accept Hashem’s will and His conduct with them. Hashem’s way of nourishing them was not exactly according to their preference. They forgot that “Who is rich? A person who is happy with his portion!” (Pirkei Avot 4:1). We are placed on earth in order to cleave to Hashem and accept the way He runs our lives and the lot in life that He determines for us. This outlook will bring us happiness and wealth. On the other hand, the worst sin is when our heart is divided against Hashem when we desire something else than what Hashem has meted out for us. Then, we will never become satisfied. Avraham, our father, is a role model for accepting Hashem’s will and way with love. When there was a famine in the land, he could have complained, “You told me to leave everything behind, to go to the Land, and now, You force me to leave it, by causing a famine upon it!” Also, when his dear wife, Sarah, was taken captive, Avraham didn’t complain but trusted in Hashem. He understood that everything that Hashem does is for the best, even when he was unable to understand how. These tests were on a par with the test of the Akeida (binding of Yitzchak). The yetzer hara is so powerful when it comes to making us unhappy with our lot in life, and questioning Hashem’s conduct. Being happy with our portion can be an even harder test than overcoming jealousy, honor seeking and base physical cravings. This explains why the Israelites’ complaining about the manna (literally portion) is a most serious offense. To be unhappy with our portion, when all our needs are met, is a grave sin that we must do our utmost to avoid.
Why did Hashem Punish the Israelites’ Complaint through Serpents?
The ingratitude of the Israelites is further highlighted by the fact that the miraculous manna was specially designed to be pleasing for the Israelites. Not only did raw manna taste like wafers with honey (Shemot 16:31), but manna could furthermore give whatever taste the Israelites desired. Rashi notes the contrast between the food of the snake and the manna. The snake’s punishment, for tempting Chava to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, was that it would eat only dust (Bereishit 3:14). G-d said, “Let the serpent, to which all kinds of food have one taste (that of the earth), come and exact punishment from these ingrates, to whom one thing (the manna) has the taste of many different dainties (Midrash Tanchuma, Chukat 19); (Rashi, Bamidbar 21:6).

Ingrained Ingratitude

The snake’s food was a curse in disguise. Although it is found everywhere in plenty, it was a punishment not to need to turn to Heaven in prayer for sustenance. Hashem gave the snake its food in abundance because He didn’t want to hear the snake’s voice in prayer. He didn’t want any relationship with it at all. Although the snake always has what to eat, it still injects its venom and kills people wantonly, without any need. This expresses the evil of the snake, which doesn’t recognize the good, and is not satisfied with what it receives. Instead of being grateful for always having access to food, the snake destroys in the most evil way. Likewise, the Israelites had all their needs met, but they were still unhappy with Hashem’s blessings, claiming that there is no bread or water. They had everything but still were unsatisfied. This is similar to the snake, who has all the dust in the world as its nourishment but still kills people.

Overcoming the Fear of Facing our Inner Snake
It is still hard to fathom why the snake, of all creatures, was chosen as a symbol of healing. It is furthermore difficult to understand, how the copper serpent engendered healing from the Israelites’ snakebites? “Could a snake [on a pole] cause death [by not looking at it] or give life [by looking at it]? Rather, when Israel would look upward and subject their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they would be cured; but if not, they would waste away” (Rashi, Bamidbar 21:8). It is not the snake but repentance that causes healing. When looking upward, towards the spiritual worlds, the Children of Israel were cured, by reaffirming their trust in G-d and His healing power. The copper snake acted like a mirror (actually, biblical mirrors were made of copper) See Shemot 38:8. When the Israelites looked up at this snake on the pole, they faced their own ‘snakedness.’ This awareness brought them to repentance. The copper serpent is often quoted as a Torah source for the homeopathic principle that “likes cure likes.” Looking at the copper serpent, reminded the Israelites of their own snake hiding within. That same snake still plays hide and seek, as it does not want us to know that it hides within us. The venom can attack us and everyone around us, without our knowing that we have been poisoned. We tend to fall into the pitfall of the Israelites, by complaining and blaming, as a way of running away from facing ourselves. The beginning of the anti-venom to the bite of the snake within is to become aware of the snake and overcome our fear to face it. Only then can our healing begin!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

How Can we Transcend Jealousy by Allowing Ourselves to Face it?

Parashat Korach

Archetypal Jealousy Must Come Out of the Closet in Order to Heal  
Jealousy is one of the underlying negative emotion of מַחֲלֹקֶת/machloket – controversy and strife. If only we could overcome jealousy, we would be opening the door for Mashiach to come already. It begins at a young age among siblings. The world of a firstborn child shatters when a sibling is born. All the parents’ love and admiration, which had been focused on the firstborn, now seems to be showered on the new baby, leaving the elder sibling feeling left out and forgotten. As we grow up, we often don’t grow out of that old jealousy, just as we don’t automatically evolve from the urges of our ego, without persistent inner work. The ego, which often manifests as our separate self, indulges in jealousy in order to avoid the greatest threat – to have to give unconditional love. The media also doesn’t help. The advertisements are actually geared to make us jealous, in order to hook us and get us to buy more. One of my spiritual healing clients – a professional performer – shared with me, her struggle dealing with her competitive lifestyle, which encourages jealousy and envy. She gets obsessed with jealousy when another performer attracts a greater audience and receives more cheers. It makes her feel isolated, forgotten, and a failure when someone else is getting all the love, attention, rewards, success, and glory. I worked with her to break her false worldview of perceiving others as rivals, enemies, or a threat to her success. This negative attitude only creates further conflict and division. It causes much pain both to the jealous person and to those around her. As uncomfortable as it can be to admit, feel, and deal with these emotions, they need to come out of the closet in order to be healed. What does the Torah have to say about competition and jealousy, and how can we heal this negative emotion, so we can clear our blocks to feel abundant joy?
Removing our Jealousy-Tainted Glasses
 ורבי יוחנן אמר לפי שאין מלכות נוגעת בחברתה אפילו כמלא נימא:תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף מח/ב
Rabbi Yochanan said one kingdom [sovereignty] does not overlap with its counterpart, even one hairbreadth (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 48b). 

I understand the above Talmudic quote to imply that no one can take anything away from you! We all have our time and place in the world. It is only Hashem that determines the parameters of our ‘kingdom’ – meaning our wealth and health, sphere of influence and success, etc. We are easy prey for jealousy when feeling insecure and doubtful about our own path. By comparing ourselves to others – wanting what they seem to have, we bring the focus away from ourselves and from facing our own pain. In order to heal, we need to shift our focus away from others and back to ourselves, becoming honest about our own insecurities. As we allow ourselves to become aware of our shadow sides, we begin the process of slowly letting them go. Then, we can integrate the Talmudic teaching, that no-one else’s achievement can infringe upon what each of us is meant to accomplish or receive, even as much as a hairsbreadth. Before we came into this world, we already chose our kingdom – our circumstances of operation – together with our package of obstacles. If everyone else’s grass often seems greener, this is only due to our looking through ‘jealousy-tainted glasses.’ Our life challenge is about exchanging these blemished glasses with clearer lenses. Through the old glasses, our peace was dependent upon someone or something else! They made us see a million rivals, a million blocks to joy. The path of jealousy is giving away our own G-d given malchut (sovereignty). It allows others to exert power over us while resenting them for taking what we ourselves gave away with our own negative attention. By returning our attention to ourselves, facing our jealous emotions, they will teach us new things about ourselves and ultimately help us to transcend them. 

Jealousy and Controversy Have No Real Existence

Parashat Korach deals with Korach’s rebellion against Moshe’s leadership and Aharon’s selection as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). The commentaries are puzzled about the opening of the parasha: 

:ספר במדבר פרק טז פסוק א וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח בֶּן יִצְהָר בֶּן קְהָת בֶּן לֵוִי וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב וְאוֹן בֶּן פֶּלֶת בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן
“Korach the son of Yizhar, the son of Kehat, the son of Levi took along with Datan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav, and On the son of Pelet, descendants of Reuven” (Bamidbar 16:1).
What exactly did Korach take? The Torah doesn’t tell us. If he took aside the additional people mentioned in the verse, it shouldn’t have introduced the list of whom he took with the word וְ/ve – “and” in /וְדָתָןveDatan – “and Datan.” Rather, instead of “and” it should have said אֶת/et – a word that makes the next word the object of the sentence. The word “and” implies that the people mentioned after Korach were not the object but the subject in the sentence, meaning that they, too, were taking whatever Korach was taking, but what on earth did they take? The Talmud says that “Korach took a bad acquisition for himself” (Sanhedrin 109b). Arizal explains that this bad acquisition was the evil aspect of Kayin’s ruach (spirit). This is what caused him to persecute his brother Hevel (Abel) incarnated in Moshe. Korach erroneously thought that he had rectified the firstborn brother, Kayin, and therefore, he would be able to overpower Moshe. Yet, it was not Korach, but his descendent, Shmuel, the Prophet, who was able to rectify Kayin, having received the good part of Kayin’s spirit (The Gate of Reincarnation, Introduction 33, 36). The reason why the Torah didn’t specify what Korach took is because evil and darkness do not have true substance. When we extract the good points from the bad, then the bad automatically dissipates. Thus, when taking the evil spirit of Kayin, Korach took something that doesn’t have true existence. The Aramaic translation of ואתפלג קרח is, “Korach took himself aside” which implies that he took the bad from the good, and this causes lack of existence. Therefore, he eventually was swallowed up by the earth and ceased to exist.  In contrast, Aharon pursued Shalom (Pirkei Avot 1:12), by means of which he became a vessel to contain the blessings and bless Israel with Shalom. Conversely, a person who upholds controversy – the opposite of Shalom – blemishes his vessel. Even if he receives abundant goodness, without a proper vessel to contain it, none of it will remain with him. All the goodness will dissipate through the hole in his vessel and be lost forever. All he is left with is a broken empty vessel. This happened to Korach, who also lost all his wealth. This is the meaning of “Korach took a bad acquisition.” He took something that doesn’t keep without the vessel of peace to contain it. Yet, in the future, when Eliyahu Hanavi, (also from the root of Kayin - Gate of Reincarnation, Introduction 35), will make Shalom in the world, he will be able to rectify even Korach, as is alluded in the verse, “the tzaddik will blossom like the date palm” (Tehillim 92:13). The last letters of these words spell out the name of Korach: צַדִּיק כַּתָּמָר יִפְרָח/tzaddik katamar yifrach (Agra D’Kalah, Parashat Korach). 

Meditation for Transmuting Jealousy
The key to healing jealousy and controversy is found in the awareness that these negative emotions have no true existence. The first step of our healing is to stop running away from ourselves by focusing on others. We can begin our healing process by turning to the present moment and acknowledge our own experiences deeply. The following meditation is designed to help transmute jealousy, by shedding light upon our personal experience of this painful emotion.
1. Allow yourself to be present in the here and now, tuning into the painful sensation of your burning throbbing jealousy. Pay attention to where in the body it resides, in your stomach, heart region, throat or all of them?  
2. Let yourself feel the raw sensations without judgment and without trying to make them ‘better.’ Let go of the label ‘jealousy,’ just feel the aliveness of your experience.
3. Get in contact with your own doubts and insecurities, your feeling of unworthiness and powerlessness. 
4. Can you feel the root of your pain? – Perhaps it is the urgent need to take control?
5. Don’t run away from experiencing your discomfort and don’t be afraid to keep focusing on the pain within you.  
6. Bring awareness and light to the aching and ignored shadows within yourself. 
7. Note the good points within that lost jealous child in yourself, who always longed for love and understanding and felt ‘faraway’ from life and fun. 
8. Get in touch with the innocence, even within that lost child, who would destroy a universe just to get attention.
9. Bring gentleness and loving-kindness to your inner, jealous child, who felt left out in the cold. 
10. From a place of deep acceptance of yourself as you are, allow yourself to access sparks of compassion for those whom you previously regarded as your ‘rivals.’ Perhaps, you can even share the happiness of their achievements.
11. Allow yourself to become part of their abundance rather than the judge of it. You may be able to learn from your ex-enemies, or at least be inspired by them. 
12. Alternatively, you can forget about them altogether, let go of trying to know their experience, and simply walk your path! 
13. In your transformed state, you realize that there is enough room in Hashem’s universe for everyone to walk their own path, find their own happiness, dance their own dance. Including you.

Human Beings Rather than ‘Human Havings’
“Korach took…” By trying to fill up his own emptiness, a jealous person will always take from others. Yet, “Who is rich? The person who is happy with his portion” (Pirkei Avot 6:1).
He doesn’t need to take from others or envy them. We can achieve this level by becoming centered within ourselves and content with who we are, realizing that we are human beings rather than ‘human havings.’ We then realize that all our achievements and acquisitions or the lack of them are all completely in accordance with Hashem’s plan. Then, we can let go of trying to take control, and just accept and rejoice with what is. May we all become happy with our portion, count our blessings in the awareness that what we have is exactly our portion, designated precisely for us by our loving Creator. Don’t we really have everything we need right now, including the necessary lack that helps us grow? 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Is it Important to Heal our Lack of Self-confidence?


Parashat Shelach Lecha

Our Environment Influences our Struggle with Self-Esteem

As a spiritual healer, I often encounter women who suffer from a lack of self-esteem. Many of them were raised by extremely critical parents, especially by judgmental mothers. I do my best to build their self-esteem through guided visualization, coaching, and positive affirmation. Being the oldest of three sisters, I guess I was kind of born with a certain amount of healthy self-confidence. The photo albums are always bursting with pictures of the firstborn child – the one who transformed a couple into becoming parents, and I was no exception. As an infant, I was quite precocious and became much admired for talking and singing before I even turned one. In school, I did well academically, so my self-confidence in that area grew as I matured. Yet, I was less socially secure, and when it came to gym and sports, I was especially insecure. I just didn’t know how to throw that ball with the certain kind of flair for which many of my classmates were praised. In my teens, the constant challenge of the subject of boys and dating increased my lack of self-esteem in this area. I believe we all harbored thoughts like, “If he likes my girlfriend more… perhaps there is something wrong with me?” I’m glad that my own children, brought up in a Torah environment, were sheltered from such challenges. Not that the religious world is spared from experiences that take their toll on the self-esteem of many religious singles, who endure difficulties during the shidduch process. Lacking self-confidence is a catch 22, that impedes success, which in turn spirals down to a continuous lowering of success rate. Therefore, we need to do our best to extend our support, especially to older singles. The commercials that constantly bombard us with pictures of gorgeous, super thin, carefree, and wrinkle-free women, can also cause a nick in our self-confidence. I, too, have suffered from dealing with my body image, growing up as the only well-endowed girl among a mother and two thin sisters, without an extra gram around their midriff. Thankfully, I was engaged, before turning twenty, to a loving man. Our mutual love helps build each other’s self-confidence. Now, the question is what is the Torah view on self-confidence? Perhaps, too much self-esteem brings about arrogance? As Chassidim, aren’t we supposed to nullify ourselves to the tzaddik, the Rabbis, and to Hashem? 

Low Self-esteem Syndrome Projects a Negative Image of how Others Perceive Us
The evil report of the spies is infamous in Parashat Shelach Lecha, and so is the acceptance of this report by the congregation. Their excessive crying brought about the destruction of our first two Temples, and the exile of the Israelites from our Holy Land. From their negative example, we learn about the importance of avoiding lashon hara (evil speech) by all means. In order not to repeat the sin of the spies, we need to unpack and uproot the underlying reason for their lashon hara and why the congregation believed it, which is equally detrimental. Let us examine the Torah verses that lead up to this and depict the negative speech of the spies that caused so much damage to the entire world:

ספר במדבר פרק יג פסוק לא וְהָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר עָלוּ עִמּוֹ אָמְרוּ לֹא נוּכַל לַעֲלוֹת אֶל הָעָם כִּי חָזָק הוּא מִמֶּנּוּ:                                לב) וַיֹּצִיאוּ דִּבַּת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר תָּרוּ אֹתָהּ אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר עָבַרְנוּ בָהּ לָתוּר אֹתָהּ אֶרֶץ אֹכֶלֶת יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ הִוא וְכָל הָעָם אֲשֶׁר רָאִינוּ בְתוֹכָהּ אַנְשֵׁי מִדּוֹת: לג) וְשָׁם רָאִינוּ אֶת הַנְּפִילִים בְּנֵי עֲנָק מִן הַנְּפִלִים וַנְּהִי בְעֵינֵינוּ כַּחֲגָבִים וְכֵן
:הָיִינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶם
“But the men who went up with him said, ‘We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.’ They spread an [evil] report about the land which they had scouted, telling the children of Israel, ‘The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. There, we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.’ (Bamidbar 13:31-33).
The first thing I noticed in this section is that the spies not only viewed themselves as weak and lowly grasshoppers, that could easily be defeated, but they moreover believed that this is how their enemies viewed them. Here is a typical low self-esteem syndrome, to erroneously project a negative image of how we believe others perceive us. It could very well be that these Canaanite enemies were shaking in their boots, from fear of the Israelites and their G-d, known to have wrought the ten plagues and split the sea just a few months prior. We often fall into the trap of the spies by misjudging what others think of us. In our low self-esteem, we tend to forget what we learned in elementary school, about the difference between facts and opinions. The fact is, that we can’t ever really know how others perceive us. Even if they tell us, they may not be telling us the entire truth. Therefore, it’s always worthwhile to believe that people think well of us. Anything less fosters a distrusting relationship. The more we trust that others have a positive view of us, the more we bring about their respect. 
The Negative Impulse of Low Self-Esteem
In order to cause others to perceive us positively, we need to first regard ourselves that way. In our zeal to nullify ourselves and dispel arrogance, we may go to the other extreme. The Chafetz Chayim explains, that the mistake of the spies is also found within us, for we still have the same negative self-image. Seeing the abundant fruits of the land or the might of its people shows its virtue. However, someone with low self-esteem, becomes fearful, doubting whether he has enough merit to be deserving of this goodness. This is the scheme of the yetzer hara (negative impulse), which sometimes imbues a person with גַּאֲוָה/ga’ava – ‘arrogance’ to make him regard himself as much holier than he is. However, when the yetzer hara realizes that he is unable to influence us to become haughty, because we truly desire to strengthen our humility, for the sake of G-d’s honor, then it tries to depress us by filling our hearts with despair. The yetzer hara tries to get us by lowering our self-esteem, making us feel that a certain mitzvah is only for very righteous people, whereas we are unworthy of it. It makes us recall all our past sins, making us forget that we already repented for them. This is what caused the spies and the entire people to fall so low. The yetzer hara made them lose courage, by making them think that to conquer great giants like those they encountered in the holy land, they needed great merit. In their despair, they believed that the promise of the land depended on their righteousness. They thought, “Why would G-d destroy such great nations for lowly people and great sinners like us, who recently made the Golden Calf, and repeatedly complained during our journey in the wilderness?” Similarly, the vile scheme of the yetzer hara still makes us lose our self-confidence, to the extent that we no longer feel we have the capacity or desire to excel in Torah learning and mitzvah observance. This is exactly the goal of the yetzer hara. Let us not fall into its trap by indulging in low self-esteem that may prevent us from Torah learning and mitzvah observance, G-d forbid!
Climbing the Ladder of Perfection with ‘Holy Chutzpah’
The spies retreated saying: “We cannot go up!” implying that they did not desire to scale the heights of spiritual perfection and ascend the ladder to the Holy Land. It was their lack of self-confidence that made them prefer to choose a captain and go back to Egypt, in order to descend to an impure land. Most of us need to work on overcoming arrogance on the one hand, without falling into despair on the other. The term ‘holy chutzpah’ is the kind of self-confidence needed in order to achieve great spiritual accomplishment. Without this kind of boldness, we will never be able to climb the ladder of perfection. Neither will we be able to take on positions of great responsibility, while thinking that we are too lowly for such attainments. Rashi explains that when the spies claimed, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we,” they were implying that the enemy was stronger than Hashem, G-d forbid. We learn this from the Hebrew word מִמֶּנּוּ/mimenu – “than we” which can also be read מִמֶּנּוֹ/mimeno –  “than He.” The underlying motive for the self-doubt of the spies was their lack of trusting in Hashem. In contrast, we must have faith in our ability to perform mitzvot with G-d’s help. By recognizing that our vitality and power emanate from G-d, we will not be afraid to succeed in any mitzvah which comes our way. I thank Hashem for empowering me, a small unworthy woman, with enough self-confidence to start a midrasha for women and maintain it for nearly 25 years, as well as to publish several books. You, too, can spread your light to the world by working on accomplishing your spiritual mission. Don’t fall into the trap of the spies by thinking that you are not good enough, or that you will never succeed. By strengthening your self-confidence, you can begin to take the first step in the right direction. Then, surely, Hashem will complete your holy endeavor! 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Do Prayers for Healing Really Work?

Parashat BeHa’alotcha

Transforming Ourselves and the World Through the Power of Prayer
I’ve been praying for my cousin in Denmark, daily. She was diagnosed with cancer more than 10 years ago, perhaps even fifteen. I haven’t kept track, but time passes so fast these days. After asking for her mother’s name, to pray for her properly, her response was skeptical, since she, like many of my family in Denmark, isn’t yet observant. When I recently told her that I’ve been praying for her all these years, she reiterated, that prayers don’t help! “Well,” I countered, “aren't you are still alive?!” Like my cousin, all of us sometimes succumb to the rational mode, which gives birth to doubts, and we may wonder: How can a prayer – how can mere words – affect what will be? True, we cannot prove that prayers help, because sometimes people do die, despite all the sincere prayers we poured out on their behalf. Yet, we have also experienced amazing miracles for people that we prayed for, who were terminally ill, but somehow kept living productively for many years. Some are still alive today! People, who went through near-death experiences, report that they returned to life through the power of prayer. In the space between this world and the world of souls, it was the light of the tefilot of loved ones – or even of people they never met – that pulled them back down into their body. Within the yearning to turn to Hashem in prayer, we declare our love, empathy, and concern and herald the hope of healing. Just as emunah is required for believing in the existence of G-d, we must believe in the power of our prayer. The more emunah we have, the more effective our prayer. This is a fundamental principle of belief in Judaism. Hashem always answers when we call out to Him, but sometimes the answer is “no!” Although, we won’t necessarily understand “why” at this time, in the future, we will. Just as kids don’t always understand why parents can’t give them everything they ask for, Hashem’s ways are beyond human understanding. All we can do is to keep praying, and thereby imbue a cold and materialistic world with sparks of holiness. I do believe that our words make a difference and that prayer really does work. Through opening our hearts, we can arouse Hashem’s compassion to intervene and bring healing from the very source of healing – from beyond the laws of nature. Prayer can also be life-altering. Through the power of prayer, we can transform ourselves from selfie to a selfless person.

Why is Moshe’s Prayer on Behalf of his Sister Miriam so Short?
After Miriam and Aharon confronted their brother, Moshe, regarding his intimate relations, Miriam became stricken with tzara’at. This was even though, Miriam, his older sister, spoke from her heart to help set Moshe straight, without any intention to disparage him (Rashi, Bamidbar 12:1). At the very moment that Moshe saw what happened to his dear sister, he cried out to Hashem with five words of succinct prayer:
:ספר במדבר פרק יב פסוק יג וַיִּצְעַק משֶׁה אֶל הָשֵׁם לֵאמֹר אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ
“Moshe cried out to Hashem saying, ‘I beseech you, G-d, please heal her’” (Bamidbar 12:13).
The same person who suffered from a speech impediment most of his life, was now able to call out with clear, concise, and articulate words of prayer – “El na refa na la – Please G-d, pray heal her now.” Rashi explains that Moshe did not pray at length, so that the Israelites should not say, “His sister is in distress, yet he stands and prolongs his prayer, [instead of taking healing action].” According to another interpretation, it was so that Israel should not say, “For his sister, he prays at length, but for our sake, he does not pray at length” (Rashi, Ibid.). Therefore, Moshe kept it short. Moshe’s prayer begins with an א/alef followed by ten letters. These correspond to the ten sefirot that Moshe unified in the upper light, represented by the א/alef. This letter reflects the heavenly unity emanating from the infinite light of the Creator – the source of all goodness, blessings, life, and healing for every being. These ten letters, concentrated in the alef, rectify all the judgments and transform them into kindness. Moshe’s prayer was effective, and after seven days of sickness, Miriam returned to the camp, restored and renewed (Sha’ar HaTefilah, She’elah v’Teshuvah). I resonate with the lesson of this prayer, that you don’t need to lengthen in prayer. Hashem’s light is beyond time and can be accessed in the blink of an eye. It’s the intensity and the intention that counts (Ibid.). Short prayers can, at times, accomplish more than prolonged prayers that last for hours. Therefore, the relatively short ne’ilah prayer, at the end of Yom Kippur, has always been my favorite.  
Five Prayer Principles Gleaned from the Five Words of Moshe’s Prayer
1. Moshe’s prayer for Miriam teaches us the importance of mentioning the name of the mother of the person, for which we pray. We learn this from the words רְפָא נָא/refa na – “heal now,” which has the exact same numerical value (332), as that of מִרְיָם/Miriam together with the name of her mother, יוֹכֶבֶד/Yocheved (Degel Machane Efraim, Parashat Beha’alotcha). Rebbe Nachman adds that sometimes when there are judgments on someone, mentioning the person’s name directly can arouse the accusing forces even more against that person. Therefore, Moshe only alluded to the names of his sister and her mother through the numerical value of his prayer (Likutei Mohoran Kama 174).
2. “Moshe cried out” teaches us that his prayer did not remain in his heart alone, but he articulated it out loud. This is in keeping with the Talmudic ruling learned from Chana, that ‘when one prays, s/he must move the lips and enunciate the words of prayer (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 31a). Even in the silent prayer, we must move our lips. This use of voice, breath, and articulation is highly effective. It empowers us to propel our prayers from below towards the higher divine realms. It is through this type of prayer that Moshe ultimately connects with and implores Hashem to bring healing.
3. We need to connect our personal prayer with prayer for all of Israel. We learn this from the repetition of the word נָא/na – “please.” The first נָא/na was for the sake of all the sick people among the Israelites. The concluding נָא לָהּ/na la “please [heal] her” referred specifically to Miriam. The awareness of how we are all linked together and held responsible for one another must always pierce through the expressions of our prayer.
4. There are two ways we can bring down abundance from Above: 1. Through rectified actions. 2. Through sincere prayers. One of Hashem’s names most often addressed in prayer is אַדְנִ"י/Adoni. It has a numerical value of 65. This gematria can be divided into י"ד/yad )14) and נָ"א/na (51). The latter refers to the aspect of the Israelites, whose power is through our mouth (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 20:4). “There is no נָא/na except petition” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 9). יָד/yad – ‘hand’ refers to the aspect of rectified action as in “Hashem’s “great hand” (Shemot 14:31). Moshe prayed that Miriam’s healing take place through the power of נָא/na – “prayer,” rather than through the power of action, as prayer can do greater wonders than actions (Sefer Machase Avraham, Parashat Beha’alotcha).
5. According to Rebbe Nachman, the repetition of the word נָא/na indicates that Moshe requested that Hashem Himself pray, as it were, for Miriam’s healing. The phraseאֵל נָא /El na can mean “G-d pray!” Tiferet Shlomo adds that the word לֵאמֹר/le’emor – “saying” is extra. Thus, Moshe prayed to Hashem saying, “Hashem please pray with me to heal her” (Tiferet Shlomo, Parashat Va’etchanan). Whenever we pray, we too can ask Hashem to pray together with us.
Praying on Behalf of the Shechina
A well-known principle in chassidut and kabbalah is the importance of praying for the Shechina (Divine Feminine Indwelling Presence). Whenever we experience a lack in our lives, it is a reflection of a deeper lack in the revelation of the Shechina. When we pray for the lack of the Shechina, we pray for the root of all pain, including our own personal pain. By repairing the root Above, the problems below will also be affected (Yismach Moshe, Parashat Beha’alotcha 54a).
Moshe’s prayer was the prayer for the Shechina – to rectify Hashem’s honor. “Please heal her” refers not only to Miriam but also to the Shechina. Like Moshe, we need to pray for the Shechina and not only for our own pain. When everything will be aligned above, then our pain will be healed as well. Every lack below has its root above, as it states, “know what is above you” (Avot 2:1). If you know “what is above,” you will know “you” – your true self (Tiferet Shlomo, Parashat Toldot).
Composing our Own Prayers
Rebbe Natan of Breslev was the first person who composed and published his own prayers after the men of the great assembly had established the formal prayers in the siddur. For this initiative, he met with great opposition from all sides. If you do not have ruach hakodesh (the lowest level of prophecy), who are you to make up your own prayers? Today, it has become very common to address Hashem in our own way, employing words that emanate from our heart.
In my emunahealing circles, it has come up that women, especially, struggle with the formal prayers in the siddur, which at times seems to be dry and lifeless for some of us. Yet, we get aroused, when we express ourselves from our heart in various poetic ways. With his prayer for Miriam, Moshe, our teacher, showed us a model of spontaneous prayer from the heart. Chana, the mother of our prayer, likewise flung her own words at Hashem from the depths of her pain. Like Chana, when we go through hardships, and feel powerless, our primal call towards G-d becomes a beacon of hope and faith. My husband and I recite one tehillim a day, together, for our children (Yes just one, short is good!). We complete this ritual with a spontaneous prayer from our heart for their success. Even if we are neither a Moshe nor a Chana, when we keep calling upon Hashem to repair the darkness above by healing and strengthening our loved ones, He certainly will answer our heartfelt plea!