Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Abusive Parents

Abusive Parents: A Video from Rabbi Simon Jacobson This video is an eye-opener for adults healing from childhood abuse.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Tikkun for an Evil Eye

Art: Linda Boucher

"He who possesses a beneficient eye shall be blessed." [Proverbs 22:9]

There is a “beneficient eye” and an “evil eye”. Both terms have been used for several millennia and are found in the Talmud as indicators of the measure of a man.

Abraham was the paradigm of one who possesses a “beneficient eye”. He always looked for good in others, and felt neither jealousy of, nor hatred for, his fellow man. Bilaam, on the other hand, epitomized the possessor of an “evil eye” – one who always looks for fault or is jealous of another’s possessions or status.

The Talmud, when referring to the evil eye, credits it with almost mystical powers. Looking at another’s possessions with jealousy in your eyes can cause evil to befall that person. For this reason Talmudic law forbids us to build our homes too close to that of our neighbours. Privacy is very important, lest we look upon our neighbours’ possessions with a covetous eye. Neighbours should maintain a reasonable distance between one another, or, at the very least, homes should be built with a separation and a space between them.

Having an “evil eye” is usually understood as looking at another person with the intent that evil should befall him. It also includes coveting another’s possessions, being annoyed at his success (as if his success somehow impinges on our ability to succeed in life), pettiness and so on.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that an evil eye leads to an increased breathing rate. Somehow, jealousy and rage at another’s success causes one to draw breath at an accelerated pace.The Talmud therefore teaches “The cup of benediction at the conclusion of a meal should be given to one with a good eye. It is thus written (Proverbs 22:9) “He who possesses a beneficient eye shall be blessed.” Do not only read “shall be blessed” but shall bless….”

Conversely, one should beware of people with stingy and jealous eyes, as King Solomon cautions (Proverbs 23:6) “Do not break bread with [one who possesses] an evil eye”.

It is not merely a matter of superstition. As much as a good eye blesses, an evil eye takes. The source of the power of the evil eye is greed. When one looks upon another's possessions with greed, and the other is in any way guilty of mis-using his money, or is otherwise unworthy of the wealth he possesses, he might lose his possessions, G-d forbid. Clearly the way we look upon another's possessions can arouse Divine judgment against him. In the same vein, when we view the possessions of others generously, we can with a mere look of our eyes, bring blessing upon them.

When we realise that the eyes are the "windows to the mind" the significance of "evil eye" increases.

Rebbe Nachman taught: Memory depends upon the eyes, as in (Exodus 13:9) "[the tefillin shall be as] a remembrance between your eyes". In order to guard one's memory, one must first guard oneself from an evil eye - from evil thoughts about others, from jealousy, and from all forms of negativity. The evil eye can cause harm not only to the one being focused upon, but also to the one who is focusing, to an even greater degree. Conversely, maintaining an evil eye goes hand in hand with forgetfulness."

Yet we needn't live in constant fear of the evil eye, of others who may wish us harm. Rebbe Nachman teaches that if we feel incapable of guarding ourselves against an evil eye, then we should flee from it. However, if we can come to understand the essence of the evil eye, our actions can be far more effective: we can rectify it.

For example, a person might have an evil eye against another's position in life. This evil eye stems from the fallen attribute of Malkhut (kingship) which, when blemished, leads to low self-esteem and the need to put others down in order to get ahead. To correct one's own fallen Malkhut, one should strive to elevate G-d's Malkhut - by learning Torah or by otherwise disseminating G-d's Name in the world. In this way, one demonstrates one's allegiance to G-d, rather than to one's own need for self-aggrandizement. This serves to rectify the evil eye of the fallen Malkhut at its root.

Source: "Anatomy of the Soul" - Chaim Kramer - from the writings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

When you invite jealousy, you're inviting negative energy from someone else. For this insensitivity or transgression on your part, you may incur a Divine consequence of losing some of your blessing. [If you give a child a toy and he hits his little brother with it, you might take the toy away. He's not using it the way you intended.]

Another spiritual rule that the kabbalists describe, explains the evil eye like this:

When someone stares at your blessing and thinks, "Why should so-and-so have that brand new Hummer? He's not so righteous. Why is God rewarding him?", it's like a complaint to Heaven, and an accusation that gets registered. The heavenly court then examines you and your blessing to determine if you in fact deserve it. If you don't, your blessing may be damaged or lost.

Of course, the accuser doesn't get off scott free, either, because then the heavenly court decides to investigate the accuser. "Who is this that comes to judge My child?" God asks.

So it's always a bad idea to give someone else an evil eye. And it's a bad idea to expose yourself to it, too.

Friday, December 26, 2014

I Am Joseph - The Light Born from Life's Challenges

In disguise
There were two beggars sitting side by side on a street in Mexico City. One was dressed like a Christian with a cross in front of him; the other one was a Chassidic Jew with a black coat and a long beard.

Many people walked by, looked at both beggars, and then put money into the hat of the one sitting behind the cross.

After hours of this pattern, a priest approached the Jewish Chassidic beggar and said: "Don't you understand? This is a Catholic country. People aren't going to give you money if you sit there like a real Jew, especially when you're sitting beside a beggar who has a cross. In fact, they would probably give to him just out of spite."

The Chassidic beggar listened to the priest and, turning to the other beggar dressed as a Christian, said: "Moshe... look who's trying to teach us marketing."

A brother’s identity disclosed
The story of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers after decades of bitter separation is, no doubt, one of the most dramatic in the entire Torah. Twenty-two years earlier, when Joseph was seventeen years old, his brothers despising their younger kin, kidnapped him, threw him into a pit, and then sold him as a slave to Egyptian merchants. In Egypt he spent twelve years in prison, from where he rose to become viceroy of the country that was the superpower at the time. Now, more then two decades later, the moment was finally ripe for reconciliation.

"Joseph could not hold in his emotions," the Torah relates in this week's portion (1). “He dismissed all of his Egyptian assistants from his chamber, thus, no one else was present with Joseph when he revealed himself to his brothers. He began to weep with such loud sobs that the Egyptians outside could hear him. And Joseph said to his brothers: 'I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?' His brothers were so horrified that they could not respond.

“Joseph said to his brothers, ‘please come close to me’. When they approached him, he said, ‘I am Joseph your brother – it is me whom you sold into Egypt.

“’Now, be not distressed, nor reproach yourself for having sold me here, for it was to be a provider that G-d sent me ahead of you …G-d has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival in the land and to sustain you for a momentous deliverance.”

Analyzing the encounter
Emotions are not mathematical equations that could or should be subjected to academic scrutiny and analysis (besides, perhaps, in your shrink’s office). Emotions, the texture through which we experience life in all of its majesty and tragedy, profess independent “rules” and a singular language, quite distinct of the calculated and structured ones of science.

Notwithstanding this, we still feel compelled to tune-into the particular phraseology employed by the Torah in describing this powerfully charged encounter when Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers.

Four observations immediately come to mind (2).

1) After Joseph exposes his identity to his brothers, he asks them to come close to him. Despite the fact that they were alone with him in a private room, Joseph wants them to approach even closer. At this moment we are expecting Joseph to share with his brothers an intimate secret. But that does not seem to come.

2) After they approach him, Joseph says, “I am Joseph your brother – it is me whom you sold into Egypt.” But he has already told them a moment earlier that he was Joseph!

3) Why did Joseph feel compelled to inform them that they sold him to Egyptians, as though they were unaware of what they had done to their little brother some two decades earlier? Why could he not immediately begin his explanation as to why they need not reproach themselves for selling him?

4) The first time Joseph discloses himself he does not define himself as their brother; yet when he repeats himself again he does mention the sense of brotherhood, “I am Joseph your brother.” Why the difference?

The unrecognized soul
The longest unbroken narrative in the entire Torah is from Genesis 37 to 50, and there can be no doubt that its hero is Joseph. The story begins and ends with him. We see him as a child, orphaned by his mother and beloved by his father; as an adolescent dreamer, resented by his brothers; as a slave, then a prisoner, in Egypt; then as the second most powerful figure in the greatest empire of the ancient world. At every stage, the narrative revolves around him and his impact on others. He dominates the last third of the book Genesis, casting his shadow on everybody else. Throughout the entire Bible, there is nobody we come to know as intimately as Joseph. The Torah seems to be infatuated with Joseph and his journeys and struggles more than with any other figure, perhaps even more than with the two pillars of the Jewish faith, Abraham and Moses. What is the mystique behind Joseph? Who is Joseph?

Joseph’s life embodies the entire drama and paradox of human existence. Joseph on the outside was not the Joseph on the inside; his outer behavior never did justice to his authentic inner grace. Already as a young teen, his brothers could not appreciate the depth and nobility of his character. The Midrash (3) understands The Torah’s description of Joseph at the age of seventeen as a “young boy” to indicate that he devoted much time to fixing his hair, grooming his eyes, and walking at the edge of his legs. Joseph appeared to most people around him as spoiled and pompous.

Then, when Joseph rose to become the vizier of Egypt, he donned the persona of a charismatic statesman, a handsome, charming and powerful young leader, a skilled diplomat and a savvy politician with great ambition. It was not easy to realize that beneath these qualities lay a soul on fire with moral passion, a kindred spirit for whom the monotheistic legacy of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob remained the epicenter of his life; a heart overwhelmed with love toward G-d.

Joseph’s singular condition – embodying the paradox of the human condition -- is poignantly expressed in one biblical verse (4): "Joseph recognized his brothers but they did recognize him." Joseph easily identified the holiness within his brothers. After all, they lived most of their lives isolated as spiritual shepherds involved in prayer, meditation and study. Yet these very brothers lacked the ability to discern the moral richness etched in the depth of Joseph's heart. Even when Joseph was living with them in Israel, they saw him as an outsider, as a danger to the integrity of the family of Israel. Certainly, when they encountered him in the form of an Egyptian leader, they failed to observe beyond the mask of a savvy politician the heart of a Tzaddik, the soul of a Rebbe.

The fire in the coal
This dual identity that characterized Joseph's life played itself out in a most powerful way, when his master's wife attempted to seduce him into intimate relations. On the outside, she thought, it would not be very difficult to entice a young abandoned slave into sacrificing his moral integrity for the sake of attention, romance and fun. But, when push came to shove, when Joseph was presented with the test of tests, he displayed heroic courage as he resisted and fled her home. As a result of that act, he ended up in prison for 12 years.

The Midrash (5) compares Joseph to the fresh wellspring of water hidden in the depth of the earth, eclipsed by layers of debris, grit and gravel. In a converse metaphor making the identical point, the Kabbalah sees Joseph as the blaze hidden within the coal. On the outside, the coal seems black, dark and cold; but when you expose yourself to its true texture, you sense the heat, the fire and the passion. You get burnt.

And then came the moment when Joseph removed his mask. The Zohar, the basic Kabbalistic commentary on the Bible, presents a penetrating visualization of what transpired at the moment when Joseph exposed himself to his brothers.

When Joseph declared, “I am Joseph,” says the Zohar (6), the brothers observed the divine light radiating from his countenance; they witnessed the majestic glow emanating from his heart. Joseph’s words “I am Joseph” were not merely a revelation of who he was, but also of what he was. For the first time in their lives, Joseph allowed his brothers to see what he really was. “I am Joseph!” must also be understood in the sense of “Look at me, and you will discover who Joseph is.”

When Joseph cried out “I am Joseph,” says the Midrash, “his face became ablaze like a fiery furnace.” The burning flame concealed for thirty-nine years within the coal, emerged in its full dazzling splendor. For the first time in their entire lives, Joseph’s brothers saw the raw and naked Joseph; they came in contact with the greatest holiness in the world emerging from the face of an Egyptian vizier…

“His brothers were so horrified that they could not respond,” relates the Torah. What perturbed the brothers was not so much a sense of fear or personal guilt. What horrified them more than anything else was the sense of loss they felt for themselves and the entire world as a result of his sale into Egypt.

“If after spending 22 years in a morally depraved society,” they thought to themselves, “one year as a slave, twelve years as a prisoner, nine years as a politician -- Joseph still retained such profound holiness and passion, how much holier might he have been if he spent these 22 years in the bosom of his saintly father Jacob?!”

“What a loss to history our actions brought about!” the brothers tormented themselves. “If Joseph could have spent all these years in the transcended oasis, in the sacred environment, in the spiritual island of the Patriarch Jacob – how the world might have been enriched with such an atomic glow of holiness in its midst!”

Contrasting Joseph’s present condition to what might have been his potential, left the brothers with an irreplaceable loss by what they sensed was a missed opportunity of historic proportions.

The error
At this moment, “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Please come close to me’.” Joseph wanted them to approach even closer and gaze deeper into the divine light coming forth from his countenance.

“When they approached him,” relates the Torah, “He said, ‘I am Joseph your brother – it is me whom you sold into Egypt.” Joseph was not merely repeating what he had told them earlier (“I am Joseph”), nor was he informing them of a fact they were well aware of (“It is me whom you sold into Egypt”), rather, he was responding to their sense of irrevocable loss.

The words “I am Joseph your brother – it is me whom you sold into Egypt” in the original Hebrew can also be translated as “I am Joseph your brother – because you sold me into Egypt.” What Joseph was stating was the powerfully moving message that the only reason he reached such tremendous spiritual heights is because he spent the last 22 years in Egypt, not in Jacob’s sacred environment.(7)

The great catalyst
The awesome glow that emanated from his presence, Joseph suggested, was not there despite his two decades in lowly Egyptian society, far removed from his father’s celestial paradise; it came precisely as a result of his entanglement with a life alien to the innocent and straightforward path of his brothers. The incredible trials, tribulations and adversity he faced in the spiritual jungle are precisely what unleashed the atomic glow the brothers were presently taking in.

Had Joseph spent the two decades voyaging with his father down the paved road of psychological and spiritual transparency and lucidity, he would have certainly reached great intellectual and emotional heights. But it was only through his confrontation with a glaring abyss that gave Joseph that singular majesty, passion and power that defied even the rich imagination of his brothers.

That is why Joseph asked his brothers to come closer to him, so that they can behold from closer up his unique light and appreciate that this was a light that could only emerge from the depth of darkness, from the pit of Egyptian promiscuity.

[This is also the reason for Joseph mentioning, the second time around, the element of brotherhood. For Joseph was attempting not only to tell them who he was, but to share the reality of their kinship, the fact that he, like them, was deeply connected to his spiritual roots].

If only…
Just as the brothers, many of us, too, live our lives thinking “If only…” If only my circumstances would have been different; if only I was born into a different type of family; if only I would have a better personality… The eternal lesson of Joseph is that the individual journey of your life, in all of its ups and downs, is what will ultimately allow you to discover your unique place in this world as a servant of G-d.

The Forest
"The sea was much better," the traveler complained. "Whenever I got tired it at least had its currents to push me forward on my journey but you," he looked at the vast desert surrounding him, "you are of no help."

He went down on his knees, dead tired. When his breaths restored back to normalcy, a while later, he heard the desert's voice.

"I agree. I am of no help like the sea and thus I often depress people. But do you really think people will remember you for crossing the sea? Never! For the sea doesn't allow you to leave any mark. I, on the contrary, do. Thus, if you cross me, I swear, you will in turn immortalize yourself with the imprints you leave over me!"

The traveler got the essence and got up to walk on. "It's always about the imprints," his heart echoed.(8)
1) Genesis 45:1-7.
2) The following observations are discussed by many of the biblical commentators, who offer various explanations (See Midrash Rabah, Rashi, Ramban, Klei Yakar Or Hachaim).
3) Midrash Rabah Bereishis 84:7. Quoted in Rashi to Genesis 37:2.
4) Genesis 42:8.
5) Midrash Rabah ibid. 93:3.
6) Zohar vol. 1 p. 93b.
7) The Sefas Emes movingly interprets the Hebrew phrase used by Joseph “asher mechartem,” that it is similar to the term “asher shebarta,” meaning “yasher koach shesebarta,” thank you for breaking the tablets, and thank you for selling me to Egypt.
8) This essay is based on Chassidic writings: See Sefas Emes Parshas Vayigash. See further Sefer Halikkutim under the entry of Yosef; Sefer Letorah U’Lemoadim (by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin) Parshas Vayigash (p. 60-61); Likkutei Sichos vol. 25 pp. 255-257.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

It's All Good

When things go wrong.... there is usually a reason why.... do some soul-searching and try to work out why this particular thing happened and what Hashem is trying to tell you.

And they said to one another, "Indeed, we are guilty for our brother, that we witnessed the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. That is why this trouble has come upon us." [Miketz 42:21]

The brothers realized immediately that when misfortune befalls a person, he must search his deeds to find a negative word or action that may have brought on such a punishment.  Then he should do teshuvah.

The brothers' teshuvah was remarkable in that:

1) They were able to feel remorseful about a bad deed they performed some twenty years earlier.

2) The fact that they could not find a more recent sin to explain their current misfortune shows that in the past twenty years they did not sin at all.

3) Their teshuvah was immediately effective in reducing the punishment: Yosef had promised to imprison one of the brothers, but after the brothers did teshuvah, Shimon was released [see Rashi to v.24].  Similarly, Yosef's harsh attitude towards them changed, for they were given food and their money was returned. And eventually, as a result of their teshuvah, Yaakov and their entire family were saved from hunger.

Source: Based on Sicha of the fifth day of Chanukah: Lubavitcher Rebbe

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Trust Only in Hashem

"Yet the chief wine butler did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him" [Vayeishev 40:23]

This verse seems redundant, noted the Maharam of Amshinov. Why must it state that "he forgot him" once it already informed us that "the chief wine butler did not remember Yosef".

The Rebbe answered: As soon as Yosef uttered his request to the chief wine butler he realized that he had sinned, as he had trusted in a human being instead of Hashem.  He therefore prayed to Hashem that the butler would forget his request entirely! And, indeed, "he forgot him".
Rashi explains that Heaven punished Yosef and made him remain in prison an additional two years because he placed his trust in the chief wine butler.

The Alter of Novarodok's (R' Yosef Yozel Horowitz) level of bitachon was legendary.

One night, the Alter was sitting alone in his house in the woods learning Torah by candlelight. He continued learning until his very last candle burned out.

The Alter was now left sitting in complete darkness and it saddened him that he would have to stop learning for lack of a candle. But then the Alter decided that he must strengthen his faith in Hashem and trust that He would provide him with all that he needed - including a candle.

The Alter quickly got up and opened the door of his home. At that very moment, a man stepped out of the forest, handed him a candle, and disappeared.

For twenty-five years, the Alter saved the candle as a remembrance of that miracle and to show his students that Hashem takes special care of those who sincerely trust Him.

But then a fire broke out in Novarodok.  The Alter's home was among the many homes that were destroyed in the fire.  The fire consumed everything that was in the house, including the wondrous candle.

"You should know" said the Alter to his students, "that Heaven made us lose the candle in order to teach us that we must trust in Hashem even when we have no proof that He will help us".

Source: Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein