Monday, May 1, 2017

Growing in silence and finding questions in the Haggadah

When I was young, I had a sense of direction that could only be explained as drifting. Events appeared on my horizon and as I watched they disappeared into other people's lives. I wasn't involved as much as perplexed and had few moral anchors to help me make sense of my travels. But, God had his hand on me and I had a peace that I was taken care of. That's what growing up in farm country can do for you where everything changes season to season but always stays the same.


The country world is mostly silent. And I know that God is reflected in his world. So, I believe that God is OK with not answering all my questions when I'm perplexed and instead, showing off his handiwork. He took care of the land, and he took care of me. The modern urban world, though, is orchestrated with noise. I know man is reflected in that world, full of amplification, alarms, music, video, and large engines. We have to flee to silence to find the right answers and not turn to another distracting program, a YouTube video, or a pop group song. Those types of media usually ask good questions but don't engage me with any useful answers.
And I, don't want to die
I want to see the flowers bloom
Don't wanna go capoot ka-boom
And I, don't wanna cry
I wanna have a lot of fun
Just sitting in the sun
(Teapacks - Push The Button)
So, as a result of drifting around spiritually, I ended up in places that didn't make much sense. It seemed like an awful lot of wasted time. Maybe, it was just a time of growth without fruit. You can't tell peach trees they're wasting their time growing branches and leaves, and not creating peaches. If God's world makes sense, then the time I spent, made sense in preparation for what was to come based on what I had given to me.

It was a time of waiting and listening, even though there wasn't much to listen to. Silence is an awkward companion for many. For me, it was an expectation. The world God made, full of majesty and color, is mostly silent. But as you listen, the soothing ripple of the wind passing by, the distant birds and insects create a background to give you a sense of security. Loud noises were just danger signs. I was waiting for those meaningful threads that whispered to me from my world. Television was a loud noise that didn't fit in.


Part of living with silence is knowing how to start a conversation. You have to make a statement or ask a question. It's easy to state the obvious. It's hot, it's dry, my dog is tired. But questions go from basic to refined. You ask why it gets so hot or why animals are different than humans. Why does it take so much work to make a living? Why isn't everything as easy as it looks on TV? Why do people not like each other? So many questions don't have good answers and take living a while to get a glimmer of understanding. Silence becomes an answer until the question can be answered by a wiser person.

A question is a creative seed. It start a process of meditation, of sorting out ideas that don't fit, and keeping those that do fit. It creates tests that can be used to prove the value of the question. Too many possibilities that don't matter and the question is thrown out. A few that lead to life or death and the question is pursued. Once the seed starts growing, it becomes a rich concept and then eventually it produces fruit. The fruit are the answers that we use to take action, knowing with assurance that we have probed the mind of God and have come away with the best we can carry.

After asking the basic questions, I turned towards spiritual things and asked questions that were worth more to pursue. Who is the creator of the universe? How can I get closer to God? How will the creator of everything speak to me? Will I have a life after I die? These basic questions are met with silence but at least I've started the process of creation of my fruit which starts with asking. I know I'll find those answers because I've heard some remarkable answers already.

Doing good

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. (Eccl 3:12-13)
I remember planting a seed in myself by meditating on a verse about doing good. I asked why it was that some people don't do good when they can and have a choice. That became personal. I was working out an answer and found I had an inclination to not do good. So, I tried to change that and I asked myself how to do good when I had the choice. Today, I still am asking that question. There's still silence for the answer, but in the doing of the good deed, the assurance of the truth of that verse becomes strong.

The creation of that good inspires me to keep asking. Maybe words aren't necessary because God needs no more words in the commandments he's already left us with. Too many words would just confuse us more. And then we'd think to understand the words better, we could just read more books about them. The words are left somewhat sparse so that we can live out the commandment in our life and harvest the benefit of faith in knowing God has given us the right amount of direction. Each one of the 613 commandments are just touch points of our Lord God's way. And as we ask how to understand and live out our lives, we prove his righteousness in every one.

Finding righteousness before the answer

It's in asking for God to change us, sometimes to remake us, so that we can follow his ways and find the righteousness that is the way out of this world that seems like it is drifting by. The righteousness we find will bring meaning and light to our world with answers that can be trusted to keep us.
Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD's anger. (Zeph 2:3)
The silence between asking and finding answers is a time of strengthening. The strength we find is the confidence we gain as we trust in God's commands. It's not about getting the answer and the righteousness at the same time. The growing period after asking the question is the time of preparing the fruit that has its roots in the righteousness of the good deeds of the commandments.

The words of God's commandments, having been spoken once, need no more sound except that of our repeating them to each other for encouragement and training. The silence in between is for reinforcement and meditation. Now, it is up to us to apply his words. Action is the way to communicate what we know of our answers now.
God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill? (Num 23:19)
Silence lets us make our actions a permanent part of us. It creates a space in us where actions are internalized. It's not an external presentation or a music festival where we go away with good feeling for the moment. No, God's commandments persist in our heads much longer than a snappy performance because we know them like we know how to sing a song, always remembered in the background until the music starts.

It was this Pesach that I learned that the Haggadah is designed to incite questions. And questions come from a teachable person. A teachable person is one who knows correction and finds favor in the Lord. So, the Pesach is also about teaching questions to one who loves the Lord.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but whoever hates correction is stupid. (Prov 12:1)
After the Pesach, we have silence for 49 days in which to think about our questions and let the seed grow like planted barley fields maturing to a harvest. During that growing season, the fruit is being prepared. And, so, in a few days we can celebrate the first fruits of that harvest and how God gave answers to Moses, through questions about life that made asking questions worth asking.

Let us ask questions without knowing where an answer will come from so that you, Lord God, can delight us with your response. And may we thank you in praises and thanksgiving, with offerings as we can manage, to put action behind the words that we find. Your world is magnificent in its glory and in the quiet appreciation of it, we ask that you bring us wisdom through obedience with your commandments and correction as we humble ourselves for not knowing.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Sharing thoughts of faith: God's social media addiction solution #3

As I mentioned in my introductory post on social media addiction inspired by an article on Breslev Israel's site by Lori Steiner, I believe our individual identity is firmly rooted in our relationship with God. Her article identified the recent social app driven surge of fear in youth stemming from being part of the wrong social crowd and its confirmed influence towards a general state of unhappiness. Ms. Steiner recommended three Judaic solutions for combating social dissatisfaction for these disaffected souls including sharing thoughts of faith in God.

Finding a relationship

I'm pretty sure that at one time I was one of those disaffected souls of an unhappy demeanor mentioned above. Instead of checking my Facebook account, I was more likely semi-lifelessly staring at other people's lives from a dedicated TV sofa or scouting out my next important film to watch. My disconnection to life was a goal since it wasn't fulfilling the need. If there was still one more thing to watch, I felt I had more goals. The internet feeds that. It always has one more thing to read for those news junkies, or one more game to play for the gamers.

But it's an emptiness that is like coming off vacation. The goal always is achieved in quarter-hour segments unless you have cable. That drug called escape keeps you up in a fantasy for a limited time but when you come home you have to deal with the part of you that wants to be in that other place.

The escape feelings can be with other things than TV. I'll spend hours walking in the virtual reality of Google Maps. I was at the Hippodrome in Caesarea today with a tour group. Then my wife called and I came back to my house. Then I decided to visit the Levinsky market area in Tel Aviv but I came back again because had to check on the pot on my stove. And because it was the last day of Hanukkah, I wanted to see a panorama of the Tel Hadid Maccabean fortress site just outside Tel Aviv which is off in the distance over the coastal plain.
But Simon pitched his tents at Adida, over against the plain. (1 Maccabees 13:13)
I could spend hours walking around in Google Maps street view and it would be just the same without the sounds, smells, and tastes, had I visited there and never met anyone. Google has taken all the photos I'll ever need for my vacation, so it spoils the hunting instinct I have for photography that used to give me something to do while I ignored the tourists.

Instead of that never-ending viewing, I needed to find out about God and develop a real relationship with him. And people that knew about God were the people I needed to talk to. Not just asking the enterprising people that made a living off of us people who ask questions and then handing over some cash to them. I had to get educated and that meant studying Torah and the prophets.

It means putting together the pieces of a God-driven life instead of a Google-driven one full of technological distractions which are bad actions. The results of doing that, make me take action -- good actions that are found in the other two solutions of this series (see below). I can expect changes and less anxiety about life in general when I do those more commandment driven behaviors.

But it doesn't mean a divestment of integrated chip run devices, but more of a sanity check on making sure the digital version doesn't become your reality. So you also are called to be introspective for that constant checking. Some might want to call it doubt, but not when it comes to disputing things about God's character that have not been wrong for thousands of years. It's only the people who lack living that life that are able to doubt. I don't doubt myself, but I've had some interesting conversations before I've agreed with me.

Knowing about God creates a need to share him

So start walking. What are the commandments that you know you are not following? Those are the first things to change. God will start changing things around you. You'll start understanding his character as you open up to let our Lord God back into a relationship with you. Sure it takes time. It was at least 40 years of marriage and earning a living by tending sheep for Moses before the Exodus. And then it was another 40 wandering in the desert.

It may not be the right time to start sharing if you haven't felt comfortable about it. Maybe that's because there's not enough knowledge about God in your soul. Let him teach you. Study. Go help others and see what you discover in the mitzvah. Encourage one another and find out how the God of Israel is holding people together both here and in Israel where there's more reason to abandon hope than anywhere else Jews live.

Once you know about God and there's a place in your heart that holds on tight to that, the knowledge will want to spread. Tell a person what God did for you recently. It could be a very positive thing or a correction that set you back on a better path. Offer a tidbit of insight from your weekly readings. Start a blog and write about it. The love of God through knowing him will make you learn to love what he loves. He loves those who love him and keep his commandments.
You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Exod 20:5-6) (Deut 5:9-10)
And there you have the reason that I write. I don't write to please others or to compete with other better bloggers on sites that have so much better content. I don't even write knowing Torah as well as I'd like and use as many tools as I can find. I only write because I feel that need to share because I've found an awesome God and found my identity in him.

Our awesome and holy God, let us reflect every day to make sure that we can please you by our obedience and be humbled by how much we fall short of the mark. Give us that next chance and a lesson to learn or some encouragement from another so that we can grow strong in your righteousness. We seek to love you more and the people you love so that our love will help reveal your glory to all the earth.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Encouraging one another: God's social media addiction solution #2

As I mentioned in my introductory post on social media addiction inspired by an article on Breslev Israel's site by Lori Steiner, I believe our individual identity is firmly rooted in our relationship with God. Her article identified the recent social app driven surge of fear in youth stemming from being part of the wrong social crowd and its confirmed influence towards a general state of unhappiness. Ms. Steiner recommended three Judaic solutions for combating social dissatisfaction for these disaffected souls including encouraging one another through inspiring or educational words.

Educating others

As an educator I know that it's more important to give a student encouragement for effort than to give an assessment on their quality of work. Anyone can get someone these days to tell them what they think is wrong with the world, your life, or the president. I think it may be a too common habit learned from the educational process to find flaws and set yourself up as an expert in a logical experiment to find a new premise and support it even if you're not very good at it and it's really just a pedantic style of complaining.
Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. Pro 12:25
Students need the self-confidence that it takes to keep grinding away at the same problem or topic for years without losing hope that it will be wasted. Even students who are not looking for a degree have the same need to come to terms with the complexities of business theories as they work their way through life and their career. Sometimes that difficult day is just improved by a smile and a recognition that doing a mundane process is being noticed and appreciated.

When God encourages

A critical spirit will sap the life from a creative spirit and turn an idea into an impossible journey when it's the journey that is the joy. To bring an inspiring word to someone who is on the path to a seemingly unobtainable goal is to dispel the despair of existentialism by letting the light of our Lord God who shines in us into the shadows of life.
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Pro 17:22
Sisyphus forever pushing a boulder up the hill represents the Greek standard we are bound to that excludes any hope and creates a crushed spirit. But in this season of Hanukkah, the Greeks are the defeated ones, and our Lord God, who encouraged Zechariah through a vision for the rebuilding of the second temple begun also on 25 Kislev, brought encouragement through the miracle of purified oil on that same day.

Inspiring others

Family members and friends need that support also for trying to do things the right way even though they may be using bad tactics or old habits that irritate you.  But I would always choose a kind heart over a unfriendly demeanor to be with. And if they need some reinforcement, there's nothing like recognizing a good trait in them.

Even our leaders need a good word even when they seem like they are doing just fine. But the tasks of leadership can be overwhelming and hidden from the people they are responsible for. I think it's important to take a minute and let your boss know that you like a particular decision or bring a small gift at an appropriate time.
But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” Deut 3:28
I don't think Joshua would have been so willing to take over the leadership role to lead the children of Israel had Moses told him that he'd never live up to his standards but it was still God's will for him to follow in his footsteps.

Your inspiration

Words about God are words that will inspire you. The mere existence of the world and its wonders should inspire you. Sunrises and sunsets are worth paying attention to just because it's a divine art gallery that you can visit twice a day. Let's look for where our Lord God has put a canvas painted with life and practice to finds words to appreciate that. I can suggest a chapter if you need one.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy. Psalm 65:8
So, with all this encouragement and inspiration, the glamour of social media should lessen. The words on the Facebook posts should look weaker and the followers should turn into just numbers that can't become a person you confide in. The weak links of relationships in social media can't become strong because it isn't built that way. The only way to get a meaningful relationship is through the power of God and following his commandments.

May the Lord God of the universe give us the eyes to see the abundance of examples of encouragement in the world and the amount of detail that exists in harmony to inspire us. Let us give back in worship and praise to the creator who has seen that all parts of our physical world encourage and maintain all the other parts of these perfectly aligned systems. And let Him who has allowed us to live and toil in this creation be blessed by our praise and our encouragement to others to praise him.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Helping others: God's social media addiction solution #1

As I mentioned in my introductory post on social media addiction inspired by an article on Breslev Israel's site by Lori Steiner, I think that our individual identity is firmly rooted in our relationship with God. The point of her article was to identify the recent social app driven surge of fear in youth stemming from not being a part of the right social crowd and its confirmed influence towards a general state of unhappiness. Ms. Steiner recommended three Judaic solutions for combating social dissatisfaction for these disaffected souls one of which was helping others.

A sacrifice of our time

Helping others requires a sacrifice of our personal life resources whether it be the time we are unable to recover or the money which we use our time to replace. This sacrifice of time might be thought of as a loss but because of the reversing nature of this simple mystery, the one who sacrifices is the one who gains. Out of a true sacrifice, a person will discover that they are the one who receives the blessing.

There are many examples of this kind of blessing through sacrifice. The one example that caught my interest recently was when the Israelites came out of bondage into freedom into the desert. The life jeopardizing commandment given from God was to not do work of the kind that creates resalable value on one day during the week so that they inwardly turned to God regularly, and externally puzzled the rest of the ancient world who had no precedent for not working except in the royal classes. The God of Moses asked him to sacrifice a day per week as part of the covenant between them
Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. (Exodus 31:14)
The type of work that creates value is my modern interpretation of this word work (melakah), where doing something that creates value is like God creating a universe that has become our elegant home. It is in direct opposition to a priceless act of work (avodah) or selfless servitude that turns us to rescue another or to worship God and the result can not be bought for any price. Of course, my Hebrew needs a lot of work so I'm open to influence and correction here.

An altar all alone

The social media emptiness accumulating through shallow communications we have with people online is creating our loneliness. We interact with messages, false messages, and ads but never a whole person. Honor has been downgraded to a number of likes and not praise. Influence is counted in fickle followers and not obedience. People hide behind their avatars.

There's a spot inside of us where that loneliness is like a vacuum, waiting to be filled. It's an altar for sacrifices where we can find the history of our life much like blood sprinkled on the sides of the temple altar left for the observers to remember. If our sacrifice is a true one, then the life of that sacrifice turns into a blessing of life for us, in a mystery of atonement. Sacrifices when made from real value create lasting memories. And if there is such a thing as the blood of our spirit, it has to be flowing with the memories of those sacrifices.
But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. (Deut 12:16) 
We all have an internal altar or at least a psychological representation of one where we try to fulfill our rite of atonement in other ways. Magazines create sensational headlines calling our seeking for this acceptable sacrifice, the quest for happiness or other flavors of pabulum just to sell issues for the ad revenue. But it's just emptiness on an unused altar.

What if there's nothing on our altar to atone for our sin and we long to find something? Then we find a powerful foreign god to put there. And since there is no life in that idol, then there will be no life in us. So we find another idol and another until the altar is filled with useless distractions of technological power creating the excess of activity seen with keeping up with trying to be popular on social media. Our power pantheon of apps and high-tech devices has grown out of a need to find life, but these bloodless substitutes leave us with memories lacking in meaning.

Our smart phones have a memory of our lives by taking photos and storing thousands of images. But what sense is it to let the phone stand between you and the life that is taking place waiting for you to step into the dance that you find yourself dutifully recording? Will your memory be richer because you can replay one of a hundred different events you didn't participate in or will be you changed because you connected with another human being and it forever impressed you?

A powerless idol

You tell yourself that if I just had something that made me happy, I'd be closer to God. So instead of listening to Hashem tell you about the ways of his righteousness, you run off and try to put something on the altar that makes you feel more like you have the power of a god. The symbols of power are just symbols of the misguided's attempt to be happy. The need to get closer to a source of the power is the same reason they killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.

When you place a power symbol on your altar, it becomes a hope of what god should want. But does God seek any power? He has all authority and power. Looking at another's altar can tell you a lot about a person's hopes. It's a mystery that our God seeks to be in a helpful relationship with us, this very jealous God who found it pleasing to create more suns in more intergalactic miles that we could ever count, to keep us forever humble.

That place of attention always feels empty because it is the place reserved for a gift of life. And unless God takes that life and returns it to you, there will always be a void. I know when I longed to have something that was extremely hard to get and was so valuable in many others' eyes, that when I finally got it, the pleasure lasted just a short moment. I could feel the life I expected to revive me dissipate as it lost all its sheen in the light on God's altar. It's been various things such as a well prepared plate of food, a piece of unique clothing, or a mystical foreign film I "needed" to watch. I felt that vacuum again when I swept that inadequate idol off of my altar and went searching for a replacement.


The call of that emptiness to be filled by the things of the world, which is our evil inclination (yetzer hara), never stops. We fill our minds with music, listening for hours and then having our own minds play it from the echoes it leaves in our minds for days. We fill it with distracting people who move on a large glass panel and talk through small boxes in our houses so we think someone is there. Or we fill it with work activities that occupy us with menial tasks to make the day pass until we see the clock release us from the prison of our unachievable goals.

We were at one time complete with God in the garden. When there was no shame, there was no disconnection between our world and God's world. But now we use the earth to bless the Lord God by building an altar or a house of worship. Our own personal altar is still separated from God and wants to find that reconnection to him. And out of the sacrifices we make by helping others, the connection can be made stronger again.

Let us remember our sacrifices we make out of love where the blessing is to each of us. Let us continue to search for opportunities to give into others' lives as God gives in to ours. In that release of our attachment on the time we use, we find freedom. In the freedom we gain, we are able to worship God more fully. And in that worship amidst this fearful world, we are able to find peace.

Lord God of our fathers who made sacrifices that brought life to our generation, let us give thanks to you that returns that gift of life. We thank you for being patient and merciful while we try so many lifeless idols in our age of social media technology. Forgive us the blindness we have when we don't see how an imitation of your richly expressive universe can't be contained in a handheld computer because we are enamored with our creative efforts. And may you always help us find the peaceful, simple life, that is worth sharing in a real relationship bound by your love.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Social media promotes fear by not basing an identity in God

Did we miss anything on cable last night? No, I didn't see your last Facebook post about your dog. I'll get to it soon. What's Twitter say about the music awards show on TV now? Did I reserve the right restaurant tomorrow? Let me check the reviews. I want to try that new gluten free hummus, they say it's better for you but I need to check my reddit feed to see what they say about their political views.

The New Fear

Social media addiction has acquired a new name of The Fear of Missing Out and I thank Lori Steiner for her article in Breslev Israel article pointing that out to me via Torah Lectures who quoted it. I've been heavily invested time-wise in social media over the last five years after writing a large curriculum for mostly business purposes. But I've seen it more as an experiment and really wouldn't mind if Facebook went the way of AOL or MySpace and kept going.

To the youth of today, it's not an experiment but a mainstay of cool communication. They need to stand out, to be noticed, stay on the move, and know the latest happenings that puts them at a higher social status above the crowd. My background in music tells me staying on the move chasing after the next best thing isn't the best way to raise a family. Appropriately enough, it's more of a temptation.
"Papa was a rolling stone, my son.
Wherever he laid his hat was his home.
And when he died, all he left us was alone.

Fighting loss of identity

The point of Ms. Steiner 's article is to identify the recent social app driven surge of fear in youth about not being a part of the right crowd (social not moral) and its confirmed influence towards unhappiness. She counters positively with Judaism's teaching in that happy people strive to be humble, content, service-oriented and not focused so much on themselves. 

Ms. Steiner points out three solutions for combating social dissatisfaction for these repeat offenders: 
  1. sharing thoughts of faith in God
  2. encouraging one another through inspiring or educational words, and 
  3. helping others
I plan to follow up on the three different solutions in later blogs. But as a whole for now, I pondered that they must share a common bond. Because they are either about our relationship with God or our relationship with each other, they must have to do with a component of how we enter in to and maintain a relationship.

They all seem to center around identity. When you are young, you try on various personas to see how they fit you and make your life choices for an adult. If I don't know who I am, I'll try to be anyone as long as it has some value to the world. You want to be successful and prosperous. How much more that you, one of their parents, should show your faith in God so that he blesses you with that success. The strongest life value and identity that you can have presented to your child is the one that you teach by the way that you live.
The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life,
turning a person from the snares of death. (Prov 13:14)

Be that identity for someone

I know who I am, if I know who I am in God's eyes, and then I can share that knowledge of faith with others. Knowing our Lord God's love for me and what relationship I stand in with him, compels me to share that love and knowledge of him. And when I see another human being as an image of God, I cannot help but offer to pay back some of the riches that our infinitely merciful Lord has allowed me to receive.
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:4-5)
It's the identity of youth that is at risk. They are losing their glory from God and using people pleasing skills to gain another disingenuous like. They have left the values of their fathers who've disappointed them and tried to find new values that shine and gleam on their cell phone screens. They look to a life controlled by a lonely programmer's decisions fueled by aimless electrons and yet ignore the love that surrounds the creator's mysteries waiting for someone to follow after his ways.

Lord God, let us find our path to you through the insincere noise of the world that you did not create us to live in. Help us to know the glory that you gave us, to shine for your glory so that you may be the one who gains honor. Let us measure our random posts and tweets against your grains of sand on all the beaches that stand in testament to your amazing craftsmanship and leave us speechless for the vastness of the oceans that holds treasures beyond any retailer on the internet. And strengthen us in that identity that keeps us from losing the protective cover under your wings as we confront the fear of the future for us and for our children.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The light of the commandments in your tevah - a protected place for God

Are we but dark vessels seeking to follow the light of God so that we may have meaning and value in this life? Or do we have a way to capture that light in us? Should we be seekers of truth which no one has agreed on, or should we seek to become the vessels of truth and let it shine forth from us?

Is our search for God like meeting a stranger because we know little about his nature? We know little about a person on the street when we first meet, getting clues from dress, manner, diction, and values. There's little to confirm a relationship in those moments.

But if we connect to this stranger, by the grace of God, through what life he has put in us, then it is God who brings us closer together. So that relationship of us through God binds us together and blesses each other.

A dark soul

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a tormented Romantic Unitarian academic, wrote about our lonely plight.
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.
So we go to and from Longfellow's isolated place if we silence the voice of the one who has created us. It is darkness when we don't talk of HaShem in this world. It's a place that has no destination or even a port to dock in. But when there is a ray of enlightenment that allows us to see the direction to the ways of righteousness, we must never fail to follow. By taking that path, we create a meaningful and joyous life.

The commandments from God are those rays of light that allow us to know more of his kingdom. His mitzvot, which joins us to him and each other, are what brings him in to our lives instead of just a chance meeting which may introduce us, but fails to bring us closer to him. So many mystics have had encounters but have little motivation to follow believing that their knowledge is enough. It is our following and seeking His ways and in rejecting the world through repentance that cleanses us. And as we are cleansed, God comes closer to us.

The seal of protection

We need to seal in those words of unity so we never forget them. We must always remember how God has blessed us. We protect the commandments and the memories of our blessings by keeping the world from entering in and polluting them. The assimilation of any unholy way will dilute the richness of His words where they dwell and this taint on the purity of HaShem who is without fault, will cause him to withdraw. We need to seal in those words with a thick coating of pitch, a barrier of willpower strengthened by an understanding of God's instruction found in the Torah, to keep all the worldly water outside our ship from seeping in.

Even though we float on the unpredictable surface of the world, we are potentially protected by the words that God has spoken to us through the prophets. Through our trust of the truth of these words, God provides a place of refuge where as the worldly waters roil and rage, we can find the peace of an eternal promise that will keep us safe within our pitch-coated vessel. The torrential sin of the world will try to leak in through any little crack and seep in to our inner calm displacing the truth that God has shown us. But we are not removed from this world, just separated from it. We are often warned to maintain that layer of pitch to protect the Law in our lives while we are yet not fully in His kingdom.
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Josh 1:8)
The waters we navigate through is as uncharted as the events in our lives. Chaos exists in both elements. We certainly try to erase all the risk associated with sailing but winds and currents are never going to announce their intentions the same way that God hides his activities. So as the waves crash in on our vessels, we have to fasten our eyes on the ways of our Lord God and seal out the temptation that pushes in on our willpower.

The tevah and the special place

There are many uses of a Hebrew word that indicate a vessel that seals out the outside world. In general, the word ark is used to translate the Hebrew word tevah (תבה). The word occurs in the Torah to describe the little vessel that carried Moses down the river covered in tar and pitch (Exodus 2:3).

The other instance of tevah occurs in the more famous ark of Noah, God instructed Noah to seal out the world with a generous coating of pitch on both the inside and outside (Gen 6:14). I like that picture. It's necessary to put up defenses against the world by both an internal fight to keep thoughts at bay capable of defiling the organized man. It's also necessary to create external processes and redefine traditions to keep you on track. You then teach others the habits of these good works to help bring families and friends closer to our Lord God.

It is the commandments of the Lord that bring us through the vast chaos of life, floating in a sea of iniquity, we still survive by God's mercy. The commandments deserve a special place in a special container internally in us. To symbolize this externally, we put them in a container that can be called an tevah. This is the Ark of the Covenant. This is the Holy Ark where Torah Scrolls are kept in the front of the synagogue. This is the holiest place where we seal out the world and let God reign. This is in us also. And it is in the one who takes his place on the bimah where the Torah is read. Even in Sephardic synagogues, the reader's stand is called a tevah and the origin of that tradition is mixed but surrounded with ship metaphors.

The final imprint

We await the time when those commandments will be sealed permanently in our minds and hearts as the world presses inward. Pitch is very viscous but still liquid which causes our vessel to leak eventually. In that day of the coming kingdom, God will transform Jews from people stepping up to the bimah to guide others to people continually getting true direction leading to a full life and success. It is the unbreakable promise of the Lord of Israel that the law will be affixed to each Jew in a covenant of God.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. (Jer 31:33-34)
Lord God of the holy places, where the Law reigns in perfect light, shine in to our inner vessel, to bring the commandments of life to our hearts and minds. And let us learn how to seal them in and to do all that is written in these laws so that we can follow your ways that have kept the universe in perfect order. Bless you Lord God of the pitch and the tar for keeping us from straying too far, having unrighteous ways, and staying in your eternal safety.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Secrets - Is God Hiding Something?

You wanna know a secret? Sure you do.

It hasn't been told to hardly anyone and it's never going to told again, but just this time, I'll let you know, as long as you promise not to tell everyone else. This secret has been locked up forever in the dark halls of the world's history archives, but was recently told to me by a Ukrainian arms merchant's son who studied Sanskrit as a blind child and had a vision of the future of America, who will be elected and the terrible events that would happen afterwards.

Knowing secrets is not knowing God

Gnostics and other holders of secret knowledge don't tell stories like myths so we understand ourselves. They don't have moral tales to edify anyone. And it's like they aren't telling you the whole story when they tell you what they know. It's like a sales pitch. The first secret is free. But you know there's a secret behind the secret. The one they make you pay money for.

Or instead of the money you might lose, you have to waste immense amounts of time to understand it because it takes effort to unravel the secrets of the universe by yourself. And then when you get to the next level, you feel like a fool because there's five more levels to learn to attain even higher knowledge. You can boast that you spent years in learning these esoteric teachings. But are you any better in your relationship with God at that point?
Causing the omens of boasters to fail, Making fools out of diviners, Causing wise men to draw back And turning their knowledge into foolishness, (Is 44:25)
The stories that gnostics spin are made up of conclusions from random pieces of information that seem valuable to them and as they weave their web of coincidence and universe propelled eventualities, the result is never how we can achieve peace by trying to follow God's ways. Usually the result is a Rube Goldbergian explanation of the reason that a non-personal god has a relationship with us and we have to just understand it.

The value in a secret is that it protects you

The knowledge that gnostics have seems valuable and attractive, only because it's secret and not because it has any intrinsic value. Nobody would spend that much time writing down dumb thoughts so people would pay attention to it without a way to sell it. It's the first major marketing scam there was. They're just selling themselves. When you hear Rudolph Steiner wax romantically over simplistic wisdom like
If I meet a man and blame him for his shortcomings, I rob myself of power to attain higher knowledge; but if I try to enter lovingly into his merits, I gather such power.
you wonder if anyone has ever told him not to spit into the wind before. Hey, Rudy, make sure you don't tug on Superman's cape either. And don't mess around with God.

God's power and knowledge isn't wrapped up in a secret because it's a way for us to want to discover it. God doesn't need a marketing plan. The knowledge that God has is valuable in itself and pleases God to make it unknown to the foolish and unrighteous. If we can't find it, it's because we are looking in the wrong place.
"I am the LORD, and there is none else. "I have not spoken in secret, In some dark land; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, Seek Me in a waste place; I, the LORD, speak righteousness, Declaring things that are upright. (Isaiah 45:18-19)

God = 7 + 15 + 4 = 26 letters of the alphabet = all possible words!

Does it really matter how many characters are in a word to God who doesn't speak in any language but in all languages? People have imagined that numbers add up and, with some Babylonian or Greek originated sleight of math, turn into another number that has a meaning. I don't see God counting anything. He asked Abraham to count the stars knowing that he wouldn't be able to, as a sign of how many descendants he would have.
He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Gen 15:5-6)
So neither the numbers nor the alphabet communicates God's intent well. And trying to detect what the future holds by arranging the characters in different sequences puts the spotlight on the wrong source of wisdom. Listing all the earthquakes, weather related phenomena, or astronomical oddities in order to interpret when the next catastrophe is going to happen is like trying to solve a murder by reading the tea leaves instead of analyzing them for cyanide.
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.  (Deut 18:10-11)

Don't sin and drive

God doesn't have secrets. That implies that there's a reason to have a lesser relationship on His part to not want to share all that He has with us. But His desire is to restore a relationship with us and wants us to feel the same way. But the problem is really with us in that we have unrighteousness, and have come up short with how HaShem would want us to be to know those things.

Does a child think that knowing how to drive a car is a secret? It's for our protection that our Creator has limited our ability to understand these things. We make enough of a mess with what we do know. Why would you let your child drive a car just because they asked? It's not a secret. It's for their protection.

All those gnostic people want to assume there are secrets so that they can be the proud revealers of those secrets to other men. Gnostics eliminate their source of truth from the equation and make a mess of the explanation. They boast about their riches of knowledge as the King of Tyre did and felt the ire of God.
“ ‘In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.” But you are a mere mortal and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god. Are you wiser than Daniel ? Is no secret hidden from you? (Ezek 28:2-3)
Lord God of the universe, how petty we can be when we focus on the meaningless parts of life when there is a way to see you through your creation and your history. Praise You for revealing the mysteries of life through your people in so many ways and help turn our eyes to you so that you may unveil even more truth to us as we humbly seek you. Though we be limited in ability, we cast our trust on you and in your faithfulness to always take care of us and bring us into a better relationship with you.
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