Spiritual Health

Beware of Judgment Traps

Judgment Trap
Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches (see Likutei Moharan I:113) that before an accused person is finally sentenced in the Heavenly Court, the judges ask that person if he/she agrees to the verdict.

Who would be so daft to agree to a guilty verdict against themselves? You're right - no one. Ah, but here's the trick: If the Heavenly Court would ask us about ourselves, surely we'd have a whole string of "justified" reasons and excuses to get ourselves off the hot-seat. But, the Heavenly Court is crafty; we are asked to judge another person. Our judgment of a fellow human is in effect our judgment against ourselves, what's known as "the judgment trap". Chapter 12 of the Book of Samuel II shows us a prime example:

Nathan the Prophet asked King David for his opinion in judging a difficult matter: "There were two men,” said Nathan, “one rich and one poor. The rich man had very thousands of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing but one small ewe which he cared for in his own house alongside his children. The ewe ate from his bread, drank from his cup, and slept in his midst, just like a daughter.”

Nathan continued. “Then a guest came to the rich man. The wealthy host was too stingy to slaughter any of his own sheep to serve to the guest, and instead took the poor man’s ewe and prepared it for the guest.”

King David was outraged by the haughtiness and hardheartedness of the rich man, and declared, “As G‑d lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He shall pay fourfold for the ewe, since he did this and had no pity!”

By issuing a verdict in the case set before him, David had unwittingly set the rules for his own prosecution and conviction!

Nathan the Prophet cried out, “You are the man! David recognized the scope of his sin, admitted his guilt and repented for his actions. Afterwards, Nathan the Prophet conveyed G‑d’s message that He had accepted David's atonement.

We have to be extremely careful to avoid falling into "judgment traps" such as the one described in the above example. Before we voice an opinion, we should stop and think that we may be sentencing ourselves for a very similar misdeed. In order to avoid inadvertently sentencing ourselves with stiff verdicts, we should be lenient and understanding with others.

These last days before Rosh Hashanna are notorious for being weeks of "judgment traps". The best policy is to speak minimally now, limiting our speech to prayer, Torah learning, and nurturing healthy family relations. Limit speech to the barest necessity for whatever business, trade, or profession that we need to make a living. When we do speak, we should exercise extreme caution to avoid judging others. If we do judge others, we should go out of our way to give them the benefit of the doubt, be lenient, tolerant, and understanding. This is especially critical in our judgments of our spouses, children, and parents.

Nobody escapes judgment traps, so don't fall into them in the first place. Hopefully, having become aware of judgment traps, we won't sign harsh verdicts against ourselves or against our fellow human never ever again. May G-d bless all of us for an inscription in the Book of a long and healthy Life for a wonderfful New Year 5780, amen.


Cramming Syndrome

Cramming Syndrome 20.9.19
Karen and Richie were both physical education majors at the University of Maryland's College Park campus. Both were superb all-around athletes, each with a specialty: a remarkable gymnast, Karen was looking forward to a career as a fitness trainer and gymnastics coach while Richie aspired to be a top-level strength-and-conditioning expert and swimming coach. They had much in common and planned to get married after graduating. Meanwhile, you'd always find them together, whether in the same classes or mostly enjoying outdoor and athletic activities. They played tennis and golf together and on weekends they'd go on long bike rides along the old Potomac River towpath near Seneca, Maryland or drive down for sun & surf at Ocean City.

Just as Karen and Richie loved the same things, they hated the same things. Their pet hate was Organic Chemistry 202. This was a required course for phys-ed majors just as it was required for pre-med students. There was no way around it. Karen and Richie could easily breeze through most of their studies, but there was no way to breeze through Organic Chem – you had to sit yourself down at a desk and learn, then learn, then learn some more. Were it not for this nemesis, their university days would have been play-school paradise, but alas, there's always a bump in the road...

Having cut most of their classes, the happy-go-lucky boyfriend and girlfriend decided that the bald-headed nerd who taught Organic Chem couldn't teach them anything that wasn't in the textbook; all the formulas and types of compounds seemed clear, no different than what the instructor was writing on the blackboard, so why sit in class on a balmy Maryland springtime afternoon, when you could be sunbathing or water skiing on the Chesapeake Bay?

The clock never stopped ticking; minutes, hours, days and weeks transpired until the ax suddenly hovered above their necks – final exams. They had only three days to prepare for Judgment Day in Organic Chem. That's when the talk about cramming started...

Karen and Richie didn't really open a book until 48 hours before the final exam. A 452-page text book in Organic Chemistry is quite different from a 452-page novel. It's not something  a person can sail through. Sometime, one can struggle with a single solitary page for a week. So, how do you cram 452 pages of ions, anions, carbonates, oxides, alcohols, phenols and carbides in three days?

First, you pull all-nighters.

You would think that phys-ed majors and fitness freaks don't do things that are detrimental to their health. Not so, if they're hit with the cramming syndrome…

How does one go for two days without sleeping? Phys-ed majors or not, you destroy your body and your brain with over-the-counter No-Doze pills and drink Turkish coffee and RedBull as if they were water. In short, you become a zombie with big black circles under your eyes and heart palpitations at the ripe old age of 22.

After the exam, the campus couple crashed, and it took a good two weeks for them to recover from the trauma they brought upon their bodies. Is it worth it? OK, even if they did pass the test (barely), they didn't retain a single thing of what they crammed. Consequently, the cramming added nothing to their education or personal development, except for enabling them to get their degrees. And, that's the best-case scenario...

***

Don't think that the cramming syndrome is only characteristic of university students like Karen and Richie.  Many folks suffer from it too. All year long, they do what they like, forgetting that they too have a day of “final exams”, when the Heavenly Court examines a person's every deed, spoken word and thought for the entire year. This final exam is the annual judgment day, known as Rosh Hashana. This final exam is no joke – it's life and death, as we say in the Rosh Hashana liturgy, “Who by fire, who by flood, who by the sword, and who by a wild animal...”

How do we prepare for such a final exam? Who can possibly account for what they thought, said or did nine, six or even three months ago?

Fortunately, The Almighty gave us a week of "Selichot", when we ask forgiveness and move into repentance mode. Beginning this coming Saturday night, we simply admit to Hashem what we did wrong, ask His forgiveness and pray for His help in improving ourselves. Penitenec, or teshuva as we say in Hebrew, is the "spiritual shower" required to maintain one's spiritual hygiene, where people should assess themselves and rectify what needs correcting every single day.

Obviously, the best course of action is to devote an hour a day to personal prayer, when we examine everything we did in the last 24 hours and do our necessary teshuva. That way, there's no need for cramming the year's 365 days – which we can't possibly remember everything that requires correcting – into the few remaining days before Rosh Hashana. Yet, most people stall until the last week or the last three days. That's tough…

It's tough to cram in a week. Yet, our compassionate and merciful Father in Heaven knows that we're human, so He gives us a one-week cramming period every year before Rosh Hashana – it's called the Selichot Week. Let's get to work! Blessings for a wonderful Shabbat and a very happy New Year 5780, LB


A Spiritual Solution for Strong Bones

Spiritual Calcium
The same principles that apply to the material world apply to the spiritual world, as we see in this week's Torah portion, Ki Tetze.

"…and you were tired and exhausted and did not fear G-d." (Deuteronomy 25:18).

The Torah doesn't waste a single letter, much less a single word. So why is the Torah seemingly repetitious in the above passage when it says "tired and exhausted"? Wouldn't one description of fatigue have been sufficient here?

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches (Likutei Moharan I:67.8) that when a person prays without intent in his heart, he arrives to a state of "soul fatigue", when the slightest spiritual tasks seem to be heavy burdens. This tiredness of the soul causes a weakening of the bones.

In fact, virtually all of our physical problems stem from spiritual problems. Your nutritionist and your osteopathic surgeon may be baffled at your bone problems, especially if you eat naturally and consume a lot of calcium. This is the very reason why a truly holistic health coach must be abreast in the health of your soul as well as in the health of your body, as Rebbe Nachman reveals to us.

The remedy for this soul fatigue is to pray with such fervor and intent to the extent that he can feel the prayer in all his bones, as it is written, "All my bones shall say, Hashem, who is like You?" (Psalm 35:10). Such prayer, explains Rebbe Nachman, revives the soul and thereby solves the problem of soul-fatigue. In addition, it adds vitality to the bones.

Simply speaking, prayer with strong intent is spiritual calcium.

With Rebbe Nachman's teaching in mind, we can now understand the above passage much better. The two adjectives "tired and exhausted" are by no means superfluous. Whereas "exhausted" indicates physical fatigue, "tired" comes to describe a tiredness of the soul, or soul fatigue. We can also readily understand what the Midrash teaches, that the spiritually-weak lagged behind and outside the protective Cloud of Glory and therefore became easy prey for Amalek, because they had bad cases of spiritual osteoporosis.

A person's physical fatigue frequently stems from spiritual fatigue. One doesn't tire when he or she is doing something that they truly enjoy. To go a step further, the lack of desire that leads to spiritual fatigue also leads to sadness and depression. Wherever there are sadness and depression, the Divine Presence takes leave. In spirituality, there is no void. When the Divine Presence leaves, Amalek and the forces of evil descend on a person and overcome him immediately.

According to Rebbe Nachman's advice, there's a remedy for soul-fatigue, a way for one to rescue himself from the clutches of Amalek, the evil inclination, sadness and depression, which all go together since negative emotions stem from the evil inclination. How? A person should simply begin to pray with enthusiasm and with heartfelt intent until he can feel the warmth of the prayer in his entire body. If there's no "heart" in the prayer, and it's lip-service alone, then on a spiritual plane, one's heart becomes distanced from one's soul, a phenomenon that causes soul-fatigue. Under the principle of "divide and conquer", the more one's heart and soul are separated, the greater the soul-fatigue and the easier it is for the evil inclination - "Amalek" - to attack and subdue a person.

The good news is that anyone can rescue himself from Amalek and from soul-fatigue. Let him start by reciting one of his daily blessings with joy and enthusiasm. Imagine how miserable life would be without eyes; now, recite pokeach ivrim with all the joy in the world. Thank G-d, if you're reading this, you haves eyes! How fortunate you are to have such a wonderful gift from Hashem. Imagine how embarrassing life would be if you had to walk around all day long wearing a dusty burlap sack with holes for the head and the arms and nothing more. Now, get dressed and recite malbish arumim with such fervor and happiness, really thanking Hashem from the bottom of your heart.Try it - you'll feel better in an instant. This is the way we should approach all of our prayers - observing our blessings, taking nothing for granted and showing our gratitude with enthusiasm. This is the basis of the type of fervent, enthusiastic prayer that not only adds energy to our souls but cures our bones. Try it and have a lovely Shabbat!


Hannah's Prayer

This is a vital message for everyone, but especially for women, telling about their two prodigious powers - faith and prayer. Despite all the righteous men in our history, we learn the proper and best way to pray from a woman - Hannah - the mother of the Prophet Samuel. This is encouraging and enlightening, especially during the Nine Days. Enjoy it and have a wonderful new month of Av and a great Shabbat and weekend...

Hannah's Prayer from lazerbrody on Vimeo.


A Lesson from Rebbe Oshiya of Tiria: Connecting with the Creator

From the Upper Galilee near the ancient town of Peki'in, we visit the holy gravesite of the "Amora", the early 4th Century CE Talmudic sage Rebbe Oshiya of Tiria, from whom we learn what it means to truly be connected to the Creator as a person of faith, not merely "religious"... Enjoy this 2-minute clip:

The Lesson of Rebbe Oshiya of Tiria from lazerbrody on Vimeo.


Yearning for Shabbat

Yearning for Shabbat
With thanks to the Almighty, I'm back home safely in the Land of Israel and my beautiful hometown of Ashdod, just in time for Shabbat. I call the photo above (doctored image), "Yearning for Shabbat" - it conveys the soul's elated feeling as the Friday afternoon sun sets over the Mediterranean, ushering in the Sabbath Queen. Nothing is so conducive to body-soul health as our holy day of rest. Blessings for a lovely Shabbat and for all your heart's wishes for the very best. Yours always, LB