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Torah/Biblical Studies - Classical Jewish Mysticism - Authentic Torah/Prophetic Meditation -
Wisdom From Close and Afar
HaRav Ariel Bar Tzadok
Long ago, Ben Zoma (P.A. 4,1) taught that one who is wise could find wisdom in everyone and indeed, everywhere. This idea is based upon the simple premise that G-d’s Presence is to be found everywhere. Being that the Divine Presence is everywhere, thus one with the gift of penetration can peal away the facades of illusion and perceive Heavenly Truth everywhere, in everything and in every one. One simply needs to know how to extract the sparks of light from within the shells of darkness.
Originally, humanity possessed an instinctual ability to recognize wisdom and truth. However, we lost this, as a result of the episode that we metaphorically refer to as the “eating of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge” long ago in Eden. Since then, our instinctual intuitive vision has dimmed. We no longer immediately recognize wisdom. Ben Zoma came to teach us that if we look properly, placing emphasis on gazing upon the Divine Presence and not upon any garment it may be cloaked in, we will indeed sharpen our inner vision and come again to recognize wisdom at an instinctual level.
The Zohar teaches that G-d looked into the Torah and used it to create the universe. Everything in the universe has a spark of Torah in it. Therefore, one does not need a book from which to learn wisdom. The greatest of holy books is the universe itself. One can contemplate life, the universe and everything or anything within it and learn from it great truths about the true nature of G-d. Truth should echo in our ears, regardless of the source from which it comes. This is what Ben Zoma intended for us to learn. When we can recognize wisdom and truth wherever it may be found and extract it from its shell that perverts its meaning and message, then we have participated in the redemption process of restoring lost and exiled Light.
There are many non-Jewish, non-Torah sources that speak words of profound wisdom and truth. Regardless of the source of the words, we must nonetheless not be afraid to accept messages of wisdom and truth regardless of their place of origins. By doing so, we perform the extraction and take words outside of their limited context and relative meaning and give them a whole new life of their own; a life that can influence us all for good, to better understand and thus serve our Creator.
In light of this, I have decided to share with you all words of wisdom and contemplation that I have learned over many years, from many sources. If you can, as we say, “think outside the box,” then you will recognize the truth in what I share with you. More than this, you too will cultivate a sensitivity to recognize truth in its many forms and learn how to extrapolate it from its shell of falsehood. In this way, you will cultivate wisdom and learn to see the Divine Hand in its many manifestations.
I will quote to you words that I have read and then share with you what these words mean to me. If you contemplate well what I can, then maybe you too will learn to see the wisdom in this. At least, we will try to live up to the wise direction set out for us by Ben Zoma.
I will add new postings from time to time. Let me now begin.
For a while now I have received many emails asking me what I think of the present state of world affairs, of what is happening in Israel and here in the United States.
I have for a long time been trying to avoid these issues. However, there is a time when avoidance is not the right course of action.
Sometimes to speak up does not require many words. Sometimes speaking up simply requires of us to say simple and contemplative words.
Those with intelligence, with an open heart and mind will clearly understand what is being said.
I choose to comment upon what is happening by simply quoting to you the words of the great American statesman, Thomas Jefferson. I will let his words speak for me.
Experience hath shewn,
that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in
time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.
The Sabbath Ritual
In the second version of the Ten Commandments (Deut. 5:12-15) the observance of the Sabbath is commanded again, although here reference is not made to G-d's rest on the seventh day, but to the Exodus from Egypt: " And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy G-d brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord your G-d commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day."
To the modern mind, there is not much of a problem in the Sabbath institution. The idea that man should rest from his work one day every week sounds to us like a self-evident social-hygienic measure intended to give man the physical and spiritual rest and relaxation he needs in order not to be swallowed up by his daily work. No doubt, this explanation is true as far as it goes - but it does not answer some questions which arise if we pay closer attention to the Sabbath law of the Bible and particularly to the Sabbath ritual as it developed in the post-Biblical tradition.
Why is this social-hygienic law so important that it is placed among the Ten Commandments, which otherwise stipulate only the fundamental religious and ethical principles? Why is it explained with G-d's rest on the seventh day and what does the "rest" mean? Is G-d pictured in such anthropomorphic terms as to need a rest after six days of hard work? Why in the second version of the Ten Commandments is the Sabbath explained in terms of freedom rather than of G-d's rest? What is the common denominator of the two explanations? Moreover - and this is perhaps the most important question - how can we understand the intricacies of the Sabbath ritual in the light of the modern social-hygienic interpretation of rest? In the Old Testament, a man who "gathers sticks" (Num. 4:32 ff.) is considered a violator of the Sabbath law and punished by death. In the later development not only work in our modern sense is forbidden, but activities like the following: making any kind of fire, even if it is for convenience's sake and does not require and physical effort; pulling a single grass blade or flower from the soil; carrying anything, even something as light as a handkerchief, on one's person. All this is nor work in the sense of physical effort; its avoidance is often more of an inconvenience and discomfort than the doing of it would be. Are we dealing with extravagant and compulsive exaggerations of an originally "sensible" ritual, or is our understanding of the ritual perhaps faulty and in need of revision?
A more detailed analysis of the symbolic meaning of the Sabbath ritual will show that we are dealing not with obsessional overstrictness but with a concept of work and rest which is different from our modern concept. To begin with the essential point - the concept of work underlying the Biblical and the later Talmudic concept - is not simply that of physical effort but can be defined thus:
"Work" is any interference by man, be it constructive or destructive, with the physical world. "Rest" is a state of peace between man and nature.
Man must leave nature untouched, not change it in any way, neither by building nor by destroying anything; even the smallest change made by man in the natural process is a violation of "rest." The Sabbath is the day of peace between man and nature; work is any kind of disturbance of the man-nature equilibrium. On the basis of this general definition, we can understand the Sabbath ritual. Indeed, any heavy work like plowing or building is work in this as well as our modern sense. But lighting a match and pulling up a grass blade, while not requiring much effort, are symbols of human interference with the natural process, are a breach of the peace between man and nature. On the basis of this principle, we understand also the Talmudic prohibition of carrying something of even little weight on one's person. In fact, the carrying of something as such is not forbidden. I can carry a heavy load within my house or my estate without violating the Sabbath ritual. But I must not carry even a handkerchief from one domain to the other, for instance from the private domain of the house to the public domain of the street. This law is an extension of the idea of peace of the street. Just as man must not interfere with or change the natural equilibrium, he must refrain from changing the social order. That means not only not to do business but also the avoidance of this most primitive form of transference of property, namely its local transference from one domain to the other.
The Sabbath symbolizes a state of complete harmony between man and nature and between man and man. By not working - that is to say, by not participating in the process of natural and social change - man is free from the chains of nature and from the chains of time, although only for one day a week.
The full significance of this idea can be understood only in the context of the Biblical philosophy of the relationship between man and nature. Before Adam's "fall" - that is, before man had reason - he lived in complete harmony with nature; the first act of disobedience, which is also the beginning of human freedom, "opens his eyes," he knows how to judge good and evil, he has become aware of himself and of his fellows, the same and yet unique, tied together by bonds of love and yet alone. Human history has begun. He is cursed by G-d for his disobedience. What is the curse? Enmity and struggle are proclaimed between man and animals ("And I will put enmity between thee [the serpent] and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel"), between man and the soil ("cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground"), between man and woman ("and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee"), between woman and her own natural function ("in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children"). The original, pre-individualist harmony was replaced by conflict and struggle.
What, then, is - in the prophetic view - the goal of man? To live in peace and harmony again with his fellow men, with animals, with the soil.
The new harmony is different from that of paradise. It can be obtained only if man develops fully in order to become truly human, if he knows the truth and does justice, if he develops his power of reason to a point which frees him from the bondage of man and from the bondage of irrational passions. The prophetic descriptions abound with symbols of this idea. The earth is unboundedly fruitful again, swords will be changed into plowshares, lion and lamb will live together in peace, there will be no war any more, women will bear children without pain (Talmudic), the whole of mankind will be united in truth and in love. This new harmony, the achievement of which is the goal of the historical process, is symbolized by the figure of the Messiah.
On this basis we can understand fully the meaning of the Sabbath ritual. The Sabbath is the anticipation of the Messianic time, just as the Messianic period is called the time of "continuous Sabbath." In fact, the Sabbath is not only the symbolic anticipation of the Messianic time, but is considered its real precursor. As the Talmud put its, "If all of Israel observed the Sabbath fully only once, the Messiah would be here."
Resting, not working, then, has a meaning different from the modern meaning of relaxation. In the state of rest, man anticipates the state of human freedom that will be fulfilled eventually. The relationship of man and nature and of man and man is one of harmony, of peace, of noninterference.
Work is a symbol of conflict and disharmony; rest is an expression of dignity, peace and freedom.
In the light of this understanding some of the previously raised questions find an answer. The Sabbath ritual has such a central place in the Biblical religion because it is more than a "day of rest" in the modern sense; it is a symbol of salvation and freedom. This is also the meaning of G-d's rest; this rest is not necessary for G-d because he is tired, but it expresses the idea that great as creation is, greater and crowning creation is peace;
G-d's work is a condescension; he must "rest," not because he is tired but because he is free and fully G-d only when he has ceased to work. So is man fully man only when he does not work, when he is at peace with nature and his fellow men; that is why the Sabbath commandment is at one time motivated by G-d's rest and at the other by the liberation from Egypt. Both mean the same and interpret each other: rest is freedom.
I would rather not leave this topic without referring briefly to some other aspect of the Sabbath ritual which are relevant to its full understanding.
The Sabbath seems to have been an old Babylonian holyday, celebrated every seventh day (Shapatu). But its meaning was quite different from that of the Biblical Sabbath. The Babylonian Shapatu was a day of mourning and self-castigation. It was a somber day, dedicated to the planet Saturn (our "Saturday" is still in its name devoted to Saturn, Saturn's day) whose wrath one wanted to placate by self-castigation and self-punishment. Slowly the holyday changed it character. Even in the Old Testament it has lost the character of self-castigation and mourning; it is no longer and "evil" day, but a good day, destined for man's welfare. In the further development the Sabbath becomes more and more the very opposite of the sinister Shapatu. Sabbath becomes the day of joy and pleasure. Eating, drinking, singing, sexual intercourse, in addition to studying the Scriptures and later religious writings, have characterized the Jewish celebration of the Sabbath throughout the last two thousand years. From a day of submission to the evil powers of Saturn, Sabbath has become a day of freedom and joy. This change in mood and meaning can be fully understood only if we consider the meaning of Saturn. Saturn (in the old astrological and metaphysical tradition) symbolizes time. He is a god of time and hence the god of death. Inasmuch as man is like G-d, gifted with a soul, with reason, love and freedom, he is not subject to time or death. But inasmuch as man is an animal, with a body subject to the laws of nature, he is a slave to time and death. The Babylonians sought to appease the lord of time by self-castigation. The Bible in its Sabbath concept makes an entirely new attempt to solve the problem: by stopping interference with nature for one day you eliminate time; where there is no changes, no work, no human interference there is no time. Instead of a Sabbath on which man bows down to the lord of time, the Biblical Sabbath symbolizes man's victory over time; time is suspended, Saturn is dethroned on his very day, Saturn's day".
The words of General George S. Patton.
Always do everything you ask of those you command.
All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood.
Better to fight for something than live for nothing.
Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.
I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.
If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking.
It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.
Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more.
Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.
There is only one sort of discipline, perfect discipline.
We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead
people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.
13 Heshvan 5768, October 25, 2007
Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism. Carl Jung, Psychiatrist
Addiction is not a disease, it is an attitude. Addiction, in the end, is a behavior that we choose to indulge.
Addiction is something that you act on without thought of consequence. Addiction is something you want so much that nothing at the moment compares. Addiction is all about fulfilling one’s desires. It has absolutely nothing to do with fulfilling one’s needs. Addiction is selfishness, pure and simple.
All addiction is bad, regardless of what the point of focus is. Addiction means a loss of thinking ability and a total surrender to desire. This is why all addiction is bad. Anything that closes the mind and allows the individual to act without thinking, lessens one’s humanity. Indeed, this is the way of animals, which lack discretionary thinking. Addiction therefore is the height of inhumanity.
Addiction to physically harmful items is clearly destructive. However, addiction to items not so clearly harmful is not always recognized as addiction, even when it still is so.
Idealism, religion and even the concept of God, good things in and of themselves, can still become objects of addiction, turning one’s relationship with these things into something harmful and bad.
Whenever we fail to think clearly, whenever we refuse to entertain ideas, whenever we close off and just do what we want to do, for no other reason than we want to, this is addiction and this is very bad.
Even in areas sacred to me, in the realms that I hold in the highest esteem, I am still open to discussion. Discussion, however does not lead me to doubt what I believe. On the contrary, by forcing me into discussion, I reexamine my beliefs, and often find reinforcements that make my beliefs even stronger. Therefore, the challenge is a good thing.
Idealism is an absolute. Absolutes are easy to see because of their simplicity. However, life is not simple. Therefore, absolutes can exist only in the mind of the believer, but absolutes can play almost no role whatsoever in real life.
Real life flows and fluctuates, Absolutes stay as still as stone. Water always breaks down stone. Rational thinking and real life breaks down absolutes. Therefore, those who cling to them do so as an addiction, without thought, without regards to consequences. This is foolishness and this is dangerous.
Addiction must be recognized for what it is. Addiction is a choice, a choice of a weak mind to perform a weak task. This is a criminal offense against morality. This offends one’s humanity at its very core.
The only rational answer to addiction is hard labor. An entire reorientation of mind must be achieved, similar to that which is achieved in military boot camp training.
We only contribute to harming the already harmed whenever we are sympathetic to those addicted. We must root out of ourselves such weakness and treat the addicted with a serious dose of harshness. We must learn to impose discipline and severe, painful penalties for selfish weakness. This is the way we actually help one another and the way we can successfully end addictions.
We must push people to think and to act properly. No more, “Mr. Nice Guy,” he is too busy indulging himself, taking drugs, getting drunk and feeling sorry for himself, wishing the world was an absolute ideal place of hippie-dippy love.
You want to make this world better, then follow the role model of discipline set by a military drill sergeant. Live by it, expect others to as well and have little to no sympathy for those who will disagree.
who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.”
To be free is human. To be encaged is animalistic. How many of us today are actually animals, only in the guise of being human? How many of us live in cages all the while thinking ourselves free?
Nothing in life is absolutely secure. The only guarantee of security is our freedom of movement and our ability to create change. Restrict our movements and rescind our abilities and we become entrapped, like an animal in a cage.
We are already trapped economically. We are encaged to debt, to mortgages, credit cards payments, car loans and more. We are already encaged in our living spaces. We are encircled within a cage of traffic, congestion and ridiculous urban overcrowding.
We want to believe that we are free and that we are secure, when in reality we are neither. Granted, we have a police force to protect us, yet they can do very little to stop crime from happening. We have a strong centralized government empowered to enact laws designed to safeguard us. That same government has at its disposal an army to force implementation of its laws.
Many times laws designed to protect freedom actually curtail it. Many times an army meant to protect the people actually repress them. The greatest liberty is the ability to defend oneself. The greatest security is when one can participate in one’s own self self-defense.
When the individual can no longer defend himself against a repressive government, he has lost both his liberty and security. Instead of having to fear an enemy from abroad, one instead has to fear an enemy from within.
A human being is smart enough to recognize a cage and avoids walking into a trap. An animal has no such common sense. We must as ourselves how much of our humanity remains and how animalistic have we become.
11 Heshvan 5768, October 23, 2007
Here are some off hand quotes from George Orwell, author of the novels 1984 and Animal Farm. Both of these novels are frightening and strangely prophetic. They not only speak about a time past, but also of a time to come. I highly suggest their reading.
All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.
Granted some wars are necessary, such as the war for survival. However, not every so-called war for survival actually is one. When declaring a war the leaders always repeatedly tell us how necessary it is that we fight and kill the evil threat that is imminently upon us. Whether or not that threat is actually imminent or not, we may never know. One thing is for sure. Those who proclaim the war send out the children of others to fight it. Leaders never die in battle any more, only followers. Maybe this should be our criteria of judgment, the war in which we all fight, leaders and followers side by side, just may be a war for survival. However, when leaders rally the troops and send them forth while they themselves duck and take cover, then maybe we should be a bit more than suspicious.
Big Brother is watching you.
Torah teaches us that Big Father is watching us from Heaven. We accept this and live with it without too much complaint. Yet, when we hear that our government is watching our every move, then we raise objection and revolt. Funny, we accept the Eye of G-d upon us because there really is not anything we can do about. What makes us think that there is anything we can do about the eye of government watching our every move, reading every email (including this one) and listening in on every phone conversation. The righteous have nothing to fear from the Eye of G-d upon them. Those who follow government policy have no fear of big brother watching them. We all know what G-d wants from us. However, very few know what exactly the government might be looking at when big brother is watching us. This makes many people uncomfortable if not outright fearful. Maybe there is something indeed to be afraid of, maybe due to our actions, or maybe due to the actions of big brother. One way or another, at least we can take comfort in knowing that although big brother may be watching us, Big Father is watching him.
During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
When everything is upside down, then right side up no longer is so. When everything right is considered wrong, then right no longer is so. When everyone lies, even truth is not believed. What can one do to go against the tide of the entire world? Speak out as one may, the single voice will only be drowned out. Yell, scream, and proclaim your righteousness; in the end you will be disgraced and ignored. Maybe the right thing to do when everything is upside down is to simply go away. Maybe when everyone is speaking lies the best thing to do is to simply shut up and say nothing. Sometimes, non-action is the best action. Not everyone can be a revolutionary. Not everyone can stand the pressure of constant attack. If one is strong enough to stand up against the masses, then let him make sure his footing is faultless. For if the voice of truth is found wanting, then the message of truth will be drowned out and lost. Indeed, the best way to silence truth is to disgrace its messenger. In a world of lies to heap disgrace upon the innocent is a simple as opening one’s mouth and talking trash. We see this happen every day.
Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.
Every public report of events is always an interpretation of the beholder. Who is right and who is wrong? It all depends upon who you ask. Public reports always present a position of sympathy. Know who makes the report and one will know the author’s sympathies. What one will not know however is what actually happened.
Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.
Genocide becomes rational when we convince ourselves that the enemy is somehow less than human. We convince ourselves that the enemy is the blasphemer, the dictator, the comrade of evil and the devil incarnate. With such indoctrination, we consider it an act of goodness, even righteousness to slay countless men, women and children. All the while, we believe that we have done a good thing to remove an evil and dangerous enemy. It never dawns on us that our actions make us to be the very agents of evil that we seek to destroy. Our delusions strip us of being human and make us the very animals that we accuse others of being. How twisted it is that evil convinces one that it is good and that good is actually evil. Then the good become evil and perpetuate acts of evil, all the time thinking it good. Things have been this way since the beginning of history. When good and evil are defined by what we believe instead of what we do, there is no greater deception, no greater evil than this.
10 Heshvan 5768, October 22, 2007
Here are some off hand quotes from sources in my favorite set of novels, Frank Herbert’s Dune Chronicles. I read these novels in the little spare time I have. As far as they are from Torah, they are not that far. I can still see truths revealed in their pages. Let me share with you some of my insights.
“Those who would repeat the past must control the teaching of
I find it interesting how anti-Semites worldwide make every effort to deny the Holocaust ever happened. They condemn Jews for perpetuating what they claim is myth. Then these same anti-Semites use this excuse to justify their call for the annihilation of the Jews. How twisted is it that ant-Semites use their denial of the Holocaust to justify beginning another one. If, G-d forbid, there ever was a second Holocaust, rest assured that a few years afterwards, more anti-Semites would arise to deny that the second one ever took place; that it was a myth just like the first one, and for this reason alone, the Jews deserve yet another one. If we fail to remember history, then indeed, history will repeat itself. This is why those who try to control the future first try to control the past. By clouding our memories, evil can perpetuate repeatedly, each time unnoticed. I have heard it said, “Forgive and forget.” This is a recipe for death and disaster. Maybe we can forgive, but we must never forget.
“All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.” Chapterhouse: Dune
Even good governments and systems that begin with good people doing good things quickly become corrupt. As long as there is no diligence against bad people, they will continue to rise to positions of power. Yet, the deposition of bad people cannot be limited to the ballot box; it must be immediate and permanent once they rear their ugly heads. Any delay only allows them to solidify their power and entrench their positions. Then they cannot be removed and what was once good become soured. This is the story of every political system. Democratic rules bind the good and let loose the bad. The more we try to be civilized the more uncivil we allow our society to become. How contradictory in nature, but yet, how true!
“Do not depend only on theory if your life is at stake”. Chapterhouse: Dune
Too many people talk about what should be and what could be, if only we do this or that. Too many people live only in their heads and not in the real world. Too many people read books and try to mold life after them. Real life is not molded from a book. Real life cannot be lived exclusively inside one’s head. One must learn to see reality for what it is and deal with it accordingly. What the books say is great. Write within them what life dictates, not what the mind thinks.
“The purpose of argument is to change the nature of truth.” Dune: House Harkonnen
Truth should be self-evident. What is good is good and what is bad is bad. Even a dog knows this. Put bad meat before a dog, he will sniff it and walk away. Put bad meat in front of a person, he too will sniff it and then simply because he wants to eat it, he will justify to himself why it is not all that bad and how it will not hurt him that badly. Why are we not as smart as a dog? I cannot convince you at sunny midday that it is the middle of the night, or can I? How funny and how sad that we human beings can be made to believe anything no matter how preposterous or ridiculous it may be. Challenge truth and one automatically begins to question it. Continue to deny truth and eventually, many will begin to agree with you that truth is falsehood and falsehood is truth. We are supposed to use our minds to think, in order to improve ourselves. Yet, we often use our minds to make matters worse. Why is this?
“Religion, often considered a divisive force among peoples, is also capable of holding together what might otherwise fall asunder.” Dune: The Butlerian Jihad
Throughout history, the one thing that has kept the Jewish people together has been the Torah. It is the one thread that has knit us together throughout centuries of persecution and hardships. Any Jew who has left Torah does not long remain Jewish. By the third of fourth generation, they are lost. Torah does not divide the Jewish people; it is the glue that binds the people together, across continents and across centuries. Those who deny this will not be around long enough for us to tell them that we have always known better than they. Regardless of how many Jews become lost over the centuries, others will rise to take their place. Torah is eternal, as such so are the people who embrace it.
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Written Works of Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok
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