Man in Search of a Path

Hanukkah conceptI remember my youth.

I had highs and lows.

The highs were high and the lows were low.

Though the times were challenging, the lows did help me.

When I was down, I started to think more clearly about life.

I realized that life was not a necklace of fun times strung together on a string.

I realized that life is much more than that.

In my period of deep introspection, I saw that there is a purpose to life.

In my period of darkness, I realized what many people don’t their entire lives – that life has a purpose and each one of us have a purpose to fulfill here.

Through the storm of pain, I realized that G-d wanted something from me.

I reasoned “If I am suffering, it must be the will of G-d.” So to relieve the pain, I asked myself the question that many others ask : “Why me?”

Then I Asked a question that many don’t ask “What does G-d want from me?”

I was sincere in my quest to find the truth, not so much because I was a spiritual or religious person, but simply because I wanted relief from my suffering.

Instead of trying to resolve the symptom, I went to solve the root cause.

My quest for solace, was lonely. I became a hermit. A man withdrawing into a cocoon.

My quest started with educating myself in Judaism. I went to the library and searched for Jewish books that seemed to have a reliable author – one that believed in the eternity and immutability of Jewish law.

Slowly, I did find solace in the Jewish stories and true tales.

In the stories, I noticed that there was a plan and purpose in life. A person’s actions have an effect on the world and are important. I realized that we are judged for our actions.

In my search for relief, I realized that G-d was guiding my life. Though it was at times bitter, it was good. Because my life took on a new dimension, the dimension of communicating my needs to G-d. I was never alone anymore.

Purposeful Living

Every act can be purposeful.

Like eating food. One can just gobble down any fast food that seems relatively fit for human consumption. Or one can elevate eating into a purposeful act to becoming closer to G-d. In Judaism, we say Blessings before eating – to appreciate the food that G-d gave us. And we eat Kosher to assure that the food will not influence us to take the baser characteristics of the animal consumed – one reason we avoid pork. Then we give thanks after eating. The reason I was eating to be able to use the energy in the food to be able to do more good – through the Mitzvot. The simple act of eating became purposeful. Each act, no matter how small became purposeful.

It dawned on me that in life we must actively choose the right path. If we just follow the flow, we end up in a life that is many times disappointing. We have certain expectations – and when they are not met, we are upset.

With my new attitude, I realized that every situation I was put in was for my personal good and growth. G-d tailored it for me.

In my relegating many of my decisions – into the hand of G-d – through Jewish Law – Halacha – I realize now, looking back it was the one of the smartest things I ever did. Instead of making many of my decisions based upon feeling, or lack of feeling, I sought the advice of Torah, Jewish Law and Torah authorities.

I recently met a Gentile who was working in the Synagogue. I handed him a card of the Seven Noahide laws for humanity. He thanked me and mentioned he would look into when he had a chance. I mentioned to him that it is unfortunate to go throughout life without plan or purpose.

The Jewish Laws give that plan and purpose.

I tell that to people. A person who regularly learns Torah – especially in a Yeshiva or kollel – is like a ship with an anchor. Those who just follow the fads are just pushed through life with the waves pushing it in any random direction.

Message of Hanukkah

This is the message of Hanukkah. Think your life out. Choose the right path. Let the wisdom of the Torah be your guide, rather than the fads, fashions and whims of the society push you through life, like a ship without an anchor.

Why Judaism?

Why Judaism? Thousands of other religions exist?

Judaism is the only way of life in which G-d spoke to entire nation of millions people to give his law. It only happened once in the history of man.

He never came down to say “he changed his mind” – so the laws are still in effect. The 7 laws for all Humanity and the 613 Mitzvot for the Jews.

The rest of your life starts with one small step. The first step in getting home is to choose the right path.

Thank G-d I found and chose the path. Now I just have to try and follow it according to the best of my ability. Ultimately for my good and for the good of the world.

Happy Hanukkah!

Understanding When a Baby Cries – Effective Reactions

Elevated Baby (6-12 Months)The Baby.

So cute. So cuddly. You want to play all day.

But you also have work.

Chores. Sleep.

A baby does not speak.

His facial expressions and cries are his words.

Determining Cause of Cries

Once my cousin told me – when the baby cries it could mean one of three things:

a) Time for Feeding
b) Diaper Change
c) Colic or other discomfort

Pretty simple.

You can feel the baby’s hands to know if it is cold.

Holding the baby will comfort.

Sometimes the baby cries before sleeping. It is perfectly normal. I sometimes sing when I am tired. The baby has another way to tell you it wants to sleep.

Take care of the three above and usually the baby will calm down.

Knowing Priorities

At times you are deeply involved in an important project.

You just have to get it done.

The baby has been crying – and you are trying to sleep.

Now what?

First, know what is more important – your baby is more important than your job, your project or your sleep. That helps put things into perspective.

Patience

You have to have patience.

Exercise your patience in other things. When you feel angry speak calmly. Read the “letter of the Ramban” or books like “Anger – the Inner Teacher, by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin” which talk about how to avoid anger.

Patience is built slowly but surely. When you feel anger or stress welling up inside – think to yourself “I have to remain calm.” Think of pleasant thoughts.

Never Take it out on the Baby

Many mothers and fathers were in the situation where they were fed up and took it out on the baby.

They regretted the second after.

But it was too late.

The hospitals tell new mothers – never shake a baby.

It is true. Never shake a baby.

Let someone else take over

If you are fed up let someone else take over.

Take a small break. But don’t take it out on the baby.

Prepare Mentally

Mentally prepare yourself for stressful situations – and think out how to deal with them – when they arise.

Letting the baby cry a bit is ok. But not too long.

Imagine, a baby is crying – and a mother or caretaker yells at it. It is akin to one going to a fast food restaurant and ordering food. All of a sudden a burly man comes out and yells at the customer “Why are you talking so loud!” Sounds ridiculous, but unfortunately it happens.

You order food by talking. The baby orders food by crying.

Think – the baby is crying because it has a need. I must try to find a way to find that need and fulfill it. Then it will stop crying.

Shema Yisrael Lul-a-bye

Sing a lul-a-bye – a tune with nice words like the Shema Yisrael.

The Shema Yisrael is good to sing every night to the baby and children. It helps them to learn belief in G-d and helps them avoid having nightmares.

A View from the Street – Experiences of a Jewish Street Vendor

MP900440299When I was younger, I wanted to meet everybody in the world.

I reckoned, that each person is different. Each person is unique in the world. Each one has their own personality.

The Torah (Mishna in Sanhedrin 4:5) states that one reason G-d created all mankind from a single set of parents is to indicate G-d’s greatness, “for a person mints many coins from the same mold and they all resemble one another. But the King of kings, the Holy One blessed be He, forms each person in the image of Adam and not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore, each and every person must say, ‘For me was the world created.'”

Thus, I had a will to meet every person.

Apparently it is an impossible task. Considering there are over 7 Billion (7,000,000,000) people in the world.
There are 31,557,600 seconds in a year. If you met one person every second it would take you more than 200 years to meet everyone. If you didn’t sleep at all.

But I guess you can meet many people. Some people you don’t want to know or want to avoid.

Once in New Jersey I was a vendor in a street fair for a store. I forgot about the people I met.

Recently, I had the opportunity to be “a street vendor” vending Jewish items.

You meet all kinds of people.

– The Woman from France whose relatives died in the holocaust, who was questioning the existence of G-d.

– The Man who loves to tell Jewish Jokes.

– The African American waitress, struggling with the challenges of life, who is sincerely interested in Judaism and is learning more about the 7 Noahide laws of the Torah for all people.

– The woman whose father is Jewish, interested in converting to Judaism but ambivalent in taking on the responsibility.

– The man, a Judo expert interested in learning Torah.

– The woman from Eastern Europe whose mother was Jewish and didn’t know that she and her children are Jewish – (a person whose mother or maternal grandmother is Jewish is 100% Jewish according to Jewish law)

– The African American man, whose mother is Jewish and wants his sister to learn more about Judaism.

– The religious Jewish paper delivery man searching to get married.

– The Moroccan man that gets emotional about the news events.

– The Old lady, a holocaust survivor, who shared “For many years I felt like an empty shell of a person until you gave me these Jewish materials. Now I feel life again.”

All are precious in G-d’s eyes.

We struggle.

Because we struggle it doesn’t mean that it is bad. When a person does sports the pain helps him to perfect himself in the sport. The struggles of life help us to perfect ourselves and become better. The struggles are here to help us shape ourselves – using our mind and the Torah outlook to become the best human being we can be.

Struggles help us live. The classic example is that of a fish. How do we know a fish is alive? If it is going against the river current. When do we not know if it is alive? If it is going in the same direction as the current.

G-d sends you a struggle, is with you in the struggle, helps you overcome it and rewards your efforts in overcoming them.

Achieved the American Dream. Now What?

Sold Home For Sale Sign in Front of New HouseThe American Dream – buying a new house.

You did it. All yours. (with all the mortgage payments)

Congratulations.

You worked hard for your money and now you have a house to show for it.

Ok.

Now what?

A person needs to feel they are accomplishing.

Many people who achieve success – a certain financial stature – don’t feel the happiness that they expected. They thought “when I reach this point I will be happy.” They arrive at financial independence, but didn’t find the assumed satisfaction that they expected. Because they think that reaching a certain status will give them satisfaction.

It is not necessarily the achievement itself that procures satisfaction. The striving to achieve it, the striving to do good and be good eventually will bring meaning and happiness into one’s life.

A person wants to do good.

Producing good by doing Mitzvot / the 613 Torah Commandments is quintessential to satisfaction.

Travelers travel to find something deeper and more meaningful.

One need only travel to a good Jewish library or bookstore to start a journey to a more satisfying life.

Respecting the Little Old Lady counting Pennies

MP900314327Old man or lady.

They walk a little slower.

Lovable, caring, particular or even crabby.

So dear.

White hair gives them a special right of honor.

Torah says “Stand up for them.”

Not only to give your seat on a bus, but as a sign of respect.

Why?

The Elderly have experience of life. Experience of living. Times of yonder that you know through stories and history books, they lived.

They dealt with all kinds of people.

They overcame problems and challenges.

We can gain strength and learn from their triumphs.

Those that followed the path of Torah boost our confidence.

Stand with respect.

When the Bully takes a Fall

Pyramid of KhafreYes. You remember him.

He used to take the weakling’s snack money.

He was stronger.

He was more popular.

He used his strength to intimidate others.

Or it could have been his words.

“If you don’t listen to me, you’ll see!”

There are many bullies in the world.

Those that use strength to intimidate. Those that use violence. Those that use armies.

The Jewish people have a weapon against them.

Prayer.

It says in Tehillim / Psalms (20:8):

“These [nations – battle] with chariots, and these with horses and we [the Jewish people] with the name the L-rd, our G-d we call.”

With G-d’s protection, Our prayer and Torah study can deflect rockets.

Living the Positive

If you look at life most of our life is filled with good. We have air to breathe, water, food, clothes, shelter and all the other good. We have life itself.

Living positive is a matter of putting our focus on the good we have.

Yes, We do have challenges.

Our prayer can bring much blessing.

With it we can overcome the challenges and bullies in our path.

Why Bad things Happen to Good People

In the 13 principles of Belief of Judaism from the RAMBAM, Maimonides,

One says that G-d punishes evil & greatly rewards the good.

Some may ask,

Where is the justice? Why don’t we see it?

Why do Nazi’s live a life of peace, after the cruelty to so many?

Why did the innocent perish, while the cruel thrive?

The Talmud (Tractate: Berachot) says, this is the question that Moses asked G-d.

Why do bad things happen to the good and good to the bad?

The Talmud answers :

G-d said – that a Righteous person sometimes transgresses. He is paid back for the bad in this world and is given a life of eternal happiness in the next world.

The Wicked sometimes do good. So they are paid for the good they do in this world and are punished in the next.

There is justice. We just have to be patient.

Like it says in Ethics of the Fathers / Pirkei Avot (17):

Nitai the Arbelite says: Distance yourself from a bad neighbor & do not become friendly with a wicked person & do not despair from retribution.

One way to interpret the last part is:

Don’t dispair, the wicked will eventually be punished.

If we understand not, still. We are also in good company for

Rabbi Yannai says it is not in our hands [to explain] the tranquility of the wicked & also not the suffering of the righteous. (Pirkei Avot 4:15)

Our job is to do our responsibilities. To get sidetracked or stunted because we don’t understand or because of the bullies is not productive. Find out. Ask questions. But in the end, our questions should not limit us from believing and achieving.

If we believe we can achieve. If we believe it will be good, it will be good.

Being Thankful for Life – The Morning Blessings

Sun Rising over LakeUpon awakening, one the first words a Jew says in bed – even before washing hands – are

“Modeh (Modah / for female) ‘ani le·fanei·cha melech h’ai ve·kayam she·heh’ezarta vi nish·mati ve·h’emlah, raba ‘emu·natecha”

It translates as:

I am grateful before You, Living & Eternal King, that You returned my soul to me with grace. Great is Your faith [in me.]

We start the day with thanks to our Creator for allowing our soul to return to us another day.

We start the day with a positive praise. With appreciation of G-d and Appreciation of G-d’s gift to us – our soul.*

Many walk around with a grudge on their back – why did this happen or that. Why the holocaust? Why did I lose my money? Why did I lose my job.

We can always ask questions to keep us down.

But G-d wants to bring us up. So we start the day by looking at the positive. “I am alive!” Isn’t life the greatest gift. So we thank G-d.

We say in Modeh ani: “Great is your faith.”

One way to interpret that phrase in Hebrew is “great is your trustworthiness” that you restored my soul.

Another way to interpret it is “great is your faith” in me. That you believe in me. You endowed me with such abilities to be able to fulfill any Mitzvah and overcome any challange.

G-d believes in you.

If G-d, Knower of all, knows He can rely on us, We too can believe in ourselves.

The Morning Blessings that we recite also give us greater appreciatiation for the things we may take for granted – Giving us a better appreciation of life.

Start the day right.

==

*The Modeh Ani & Morning Blessings are found in Our “My Mini-Siddur” – A Free Jewish Prayer Book.

Motorcycle Man and the Pitfalls of Dating

Motorcyclist Hitting the Open RoadMotorcycle man.

That motorcycle. So sleek and Strong. Attracts glare and stare.

What is 40K when you want to impress.

Wow. Look at the rider.

Muscles galore. And handsome too. Probably has a big wallet to afford that bike.

Smooth talker. Cool walker.

Maybe make a date?

No. Got to wait.

There is something to contemplate.

He has the personality – but what about the family?

Is the personality an act? or is it a fact?

what happens when the cards or down? Or the times? Does his facade come tumbling down?

Is the guy serious? Does he want to marry?

Is he nice? Or does he care too much about his bike?

Will he make a good father?

Will he bring his kids up to respect land and G-d?

Or just his hot-rod?

Does he even care about others. Or just his mother?

Is he in the relationship just for the fun? Does he care about anyone? Including you?

==

I read a book – I believe it was called – The Magic Touch by Gila Manolson. She is an experienced teacher from the Discovery Seminar offers the thought-provoking Jewish perspective on Touching.

A story in the book is an eye opener on Dating. She is a professor and asks the class – How many are dating. Many raise their hands. She challenges them not to touch for one month. She leaves hurriedly. Some take her up on the challenge.

Those that take her up on the challenge lead them to discover their partner and some eventually get married. Why. Because when the physical aspect is put aide, it allows them to appreciate the other’s personality.

In the book she causes rife between certain couples because of the following question:

How many of you have the intention of marrying your dating partner?

A few raise their hands. One woman was sincerely ticked off because her dating partner who was taking the class with her did not raise his hand to the affirmative. All those years of dating was to satisfy his desire for companionship and fun. But he had no intention of tying the not. All those years, that she could have been building a family were lost with one question.

In Jewish Law a man does not generally touch a woman unless she is his mother, daughter or wife.

Touching and familiarity leads to intimacy. When intimacy starts, the heart takes over and objective thinking takes a backseat.

There’s more to touching than most of us realize.

Today, people date for a good time. They swing from person to person – till they realize it is too late. They should have thought about building a family or getting married when they were younger.

Dating according to Torah is to get to know if the person is right for marriage.

Sit down. Take some time off from the rat race. Where are you going. Are your relationships fruitful or dead-end.

The Torah tells us look at the good character traits.

Before you are entangled in a relationship – ask:
Is the partner Jewish? (If you are Jewish)
Will the partner follow the 7 Noahide laws?
Will they make a good husband or wife?
Will they want to keep a kosher home?
Do they have values that are in congruence with the Torah’s?
Are they kind hearted?
Are they honest?
Are they open to growth or do they want remain at the status quo?
Will they bring up the children according the pleasant paths of the Torah?
Will they send the children to a Jewish Day school or a Yeshiva?
Do they want to learn Torah regularly?

Nice Motorcycle. But how far will it get you?

The Sabbatical Year – New Year – New Attitude

Cow Grazing in PastureSix years we work our field. The seventh year, we let it lay fallow.

Rest for field. Rest for a farmer.

This Torah concept, that every seventh year we give a sabbatical to our field and farmers is called Shemitah.

This year is a Shemittah Year. In Eretz Yisrael / the land of Israel, we stop commercial tilling of the fields. Each one’s field is free for anyone to take crops for personal consumption.

This rest allows the farmer more time to devote to Torah study and greater spiritual pursuits.

It allows the field time to recuperate from its momentous production.

In the Shemitah Year – all debts are forgiven. One who owed a thousand dollars last year will owe no money this year.

Debts are not carried over to the next year.

All money that was owed is forgotten.

Putting aside the details of the law, we can learn that once a year has past – we can avoid carrying over bad feelings from bygone days.

The past is the past.

Now, one can let go of animosity, hatred, feelings of anger. It is a new year.

One can live with a new positive attitude.

Let go of the bad.

Bring in the good.

Grab the Bottle from the Baby – Aren’t You Sweet?

MP900337279In the first Mishna of Talmud Tractate Succot it says that a Succah that is higher than 20 Amot (One Ama = about 1 1/2 to 2 feet) is not Kosher.

One reason given why this is so is that:

If a Succah is higher than 20 Amot (About 30 – 40 feet) one does not recognize that one is in a Succah – because the ceiling is too high to feel you are inside.

Another is that : One Must be in the shade of the Schach (the earth grown Succah roof), not in the shade of the walls. If it is higher than 20 Amot one is no longer in the shade of the Schach but in the shade or the walls.

A third is that : The Succah must be a temporary dwelling. If you build a succah higher than 20 Amot, you must use materials that will make it permanent. Temporary materials will not be able to withstand such a high structure.

Apparently we can learn three principles of Judaism from these reasons

If we take the wals to represent this materialistic world and the Schach (the natural, earth grown roof) to represent G-d’s contribution in our lives we can learn:

1. To live properly in this world, we are enjoined to recognize G-d’s hand in our lives on a daily basis. This is one of the first Halachot (Jewish Laws) in the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) – regarding Daily conduct of a Jew (Orach Haim). It says “Shiviti Hash-m leNegdi Tamid” / “I place G-d before me consistently” is a great principle in the Torah.

2. A second lesson – is to recognize the good that G-d provides for us daily. Appreciating all the good of G-d will allow us to develop a greater relationship with Him.

3. Thirdly, we learn that we are only on a temporary journey in this world. When we instill in ourselves that we will one day return to heaven – we will be more careful about our actions.

If we look at the good in every situation, our lives would change immensely for the better.

Grab a bottle from a baby and he will likely cry.

Why?

He loves his milk.

He didn’t know that the milk went sour.

But the loving parent knew. So he grabbed it away.

But the baby didn’t.

We just have to remember we have a loving father that watches over us.

We don’t always understand the why in life.

Suffice to know, that our loving father knows why what happens to us is good.