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Shabbos Chic Blog

Spiritual growth

Exploring the Path of Free Will

Free will is a mystery to most of us, until we decide to press in and search for its meaning in our own lives. 

I did a search for quotes on free will, and the largest collection I found was on Goodreads. A total of 377 quotes (collected from authors) provides plenty of entertainment, but not much satisfaction, at least not for me. 

Then I heard Rabbi Alon Anava say, "The whole point of free will is not the path you walk on. It's how you walk on it. That's the point of free will."  Finally, I found a satisfying quote on the topic of free will. 

An article by Rabbi Noah Weinberg brings free will into sharper focus for me, in my daily life. Free will is a choice:

"Greatness lies in how we resolve conflicts – in using our free will to grow – not to quit. To face reality – not to escape. To live and not to die. When we escape problems, we escape the chance of becoming great. It's a constant battle every moment of our lives."
 
First, we have to use our free will to WANT to be great, in some way. That's exciting to me, so now I'm using my free will to see what's getting in the way of my achieving greatness.

Here is Rabbi Weinberg's list of 5 levels of achieving free will, which I LOVE:

Level One: Don't be a sleepwalker. 
Make decisions actively.

Level Two: Don't be a puppet of society's goals, 
or a slave to your old decisions.

Level Three: Be aware of the conflict between the cravings of your body 
and the aspirations of your soul.

Level Four: Identify with your soul, not your body.

Level Five: Make your will God's will.

The Whole Point of Elul

For me, this Elul 5775 is all about The King is in The Field of Lemon Verbena.

My crop doesn't look like this in real life, but in my vision of the future it's quite a crop! 

And, to me, that's the whole point of Elul... Seeing our lives in perspective, seeing ourselves in perspective, dealing with what we want to change about our lives and having a new vision for the future of profuse growth of consciousness, with no interference. 

That's how I see it anyway. And I was incredibly inspired by Mrs. Shira Smiles' teaching called How Elul Is The Month of Relationships. Oh, that topic truly hits home for me this year. 

My favorite part is when Mrs. Smiles describes our human tendency to "pour cement on our Neshama."  That's such a great visual, isn't it? It's a picture of what we do when we draw conclusions about what we do (and don't do) and what other people do (and don't do) and we draw conclusions about our own failings, resulting in a big mess. 

Pouring wet cement on our tender, Neshama, a part of our eternal soul. Nobody intends to pour wet cement on their own living soul; certainly not if they understand how precious it is. 

But we do it, nevertheless. We dump on ourselves often, making a bigger and bigger pile over who we really are, which makes it impossible to do what we are here on earth to do. Which is not good.

My goal for 5776 is simple now - No More Wet Cement! I want to grow without the weight upon my Neshama now.

For me, the whole point of Elul this year is to learn to recognize old cementy thoughts and actions so I can avoid them, and so I can set my Neshama free!

I Love Elul!

When our Temple president asked me to lead the services last Shabbat I was so thrilled to say, "Sure!" It was Rosh Chodesh Elul!  I just love having a month-long assignment from Hashem to become introspective for my own spiritual growth each year.

It's not a selfish distraction or an obsessive compulsion to read real books and online materials, and to listen to audio and watch video teachings many, many hours a week. It's my assignment this month!

And what's the purpose of Elul (as I understand it now, in this final month of 5775?)  The purpose of Elul is not abject repentance only. Yes, repentance is part of it. But first comes self-assessment, from which we naturally discover the need to repent. And then what?

What comes next is the renewing and refreshing of ourselves, our hopes and dreams and goals and desires. These are all food for the Rosh Hashanah, the New Year coming up and the end of the month of Elul.

Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz posted the following on his site, ParadisePrinciple.com, "… look at all the portions in the Torah we read during Elul. We see that Moses is doing a review in all of them. 

Moses is reviewing all the episodes the Jews experienced in their stay in the desert. And his review corresponds to what we are meant to be doing. We are meant to be reviewing our year and all the highlights of our year, sort of an inventory of what we did right and wrong, and what we need and want to do."

It's a recap and a planning period, that's my Elul. I'm so glad to have this month to grow before 5776 arrives this September!

Shabbat Shalom Pinchas

This week, Shabbos Pinchas, I'm taking note of some big changes in my perception of my life and business challenges.

Hashem has given me an opportunity to step back and see how my lack of focus is costing me in many ways, some are tangible and measurable in this world, and some are for The World To Come.

I need to put my focus on what I ALREADY HAVE, what I've been given and what I've developed in my life.  The keys to appreciating and realizing my success are forged by my recognition of these gifts. My challenges are, in fact, my gifts. In my challenges I grow and identify my focus.

My dear friend Rae Shagalov's beautiful calligraphy, created especially for Shabbos this week, reminds me that I have a special day (each week) to remember that my life is complete and my purpose is already fulfilled.

What a relief!  What a totally wonderful reality to believe, accept and remember.   Shabbat Shalom!

It's Spring, And It's Parshas Vayikra

This week we begin the book of Vayikra, with the Torah portion of the same name.

It's about sacrifices, and that's something very foreign to us today, unless we look at it spiritually.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz provided a little booklet for those of us in his weekly class through Jewish Workshops, and he wrote: "If there is no difficulty, there is no sacrifice." That is another way to look at the whole concept of sacrifice, very different from the Temple sacrifices in the past.

The difficulties in our lives (and we all have PLENTY of them) are our opportunities for sacrifice. We can choose to see them as a way to give up our selfishness and small view of ourselves and of the world (which of course includes other people), and in that choice we are sacrificing other viewpoints.

Choosing a higher view and following through with higher actions is making a sacrifice of everything we are not thinking and not doing instead.

I am thinking and posting about sacrifice this Shabbos, and will undoubtedly be wrestling with the concept the rest of my life!

Teshuva this Elul 5774

Rae Shagalov inspires our Teshuva this year in a lovely way on her beautiful art blog, and also her YouTube video.

Four words beginning with the letter R make it easier to remember what we think about this month of Elul, but not necessarily easier to DO, right?

But remembering is truly the first step. We are so busy and distracted that simply remembering to consider Teshuva during Elul is a big deal.

I have so grown so much this Elul 5774  in membership classes offered by Jewish Workshops and led by Rabbi Akiva Tatz.  Here's a wonderful Elul teaching by Rabbi Tatz where you'll find world-class Jewish teaching at no cost, 24/7.

In a special Rosh Hashana webinar today Rabbi Tatz said, "Teshuva works because it removes your will from the sin... You disowned it, detached your name from it."

Sounds good to me!  L'Shanna Tova 5775 to one and all!

People Of The Desert

"It is written in the memories of the ancient peoples that one who chooses the desert for his enemy has chosen a bitter foe, but he who accepts it as a friend, who will seek to understand its moods and whims, shall feel also its mercy, shall drink deep of its hidden waters, and the treasures of its rocks shall be opened before him. Where one may walk in freedom and find water in the arid places, another may gasp out his last breath under the desert sun and mark the sands with the bones of his ending." From The Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour, Volume I

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So, I'm packing for my continuing trip to the Promised Land. I'm grateful to be set free from captivity each year at Passover, and fully equipped during the important time leading up to and after Shavuot.

My symbolic trip through the desert has been VERY valuable to my spirit this year.

Before we enter the month of Av this year I want to make sure all the gleanings from the month of Sivan and Tammuz are coming along with me then. May we all be blessed and equipped in Spirit, this month and always.

Rabbi Aryeh Nivin said it so beautifully in his email newsletter today, so here are his words for you to enjoy, too:

"...look at what you’ve accomplished all year long, and see which of your goals still need to be achieved. You still have all of Tammuz and Av to realize them. Ask yourself in a practical, measurable way, 'What do I want to achieve before the end of the year?' Stay focused so you don’t get distracted by the myriad temptations at this time of year, so you can complete these goals.At this time of year we have the greatest power to achieve...

As long as we keep the ta’ava and ga’ava in check, this is the time to make things happen."

On Free Will - Rabbi Akiva Tatz

Rabbi Akiva Tatz has a new book, and those of us learning with him through Jewish Workshops' incredible e-learning program received a copy of it by email today.

One sentence struck me so deeply, and I wanted to share it today -

"The tension between the elevated and the fallen creates the space in which free choice can exist."

Wow, that puts our opportunity as humans into sharp perspective, doesn't it?




Tour Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin in Israel

Click photo for a delightful 5 minute tour of Midreshet B'erot Bay Ayin, an unprecedented holistic center for Jewish women to re-connect with their tribe and with their personal feminine relationship to Torah and to each other.

Growing Through Shabbos with Rabbi Labinsky

Enjoy the intelligent, compassionate teachings of Rabbi Yaakov Zalman Labinsky in his 20-part audio program on building our inner sanctuary in order to receive the Divine Presence on Shabbos.

Eighth Night of Hanukkah 2013 - Our Highest Prayers

ShabbosChicHanukkahLightInTheDarkness





















This inspirational message arrived by email just in time for our 8th night of Hanukkah tonight. May it inspire you and your final night of Hanukkah 2013 as well:

"The last night and day of Chanukah is called Zos Chanukah. It is a night where the gates of prayer are open for our heavenly requests. It is a time that encapsulates the power and holiness of all the preceding seven nights of Chanukah. Our Sages teach us that we still have one last opportunity for the judgment of Yom Kippur to be finalized which is the 8th day of Chanukah. One can accomplish on the 8th day of Chanukah requests that even great Tzadikim cannot accomplish during Neilah of Yom Kippur. Let us use this opportunity to strengthen our prayers Torah study mitzvos and tzedakah."

Rabbi Yisroel of theHineni Heritage Center

Fear and 'Seeing' of God




















See more creative Shabbat candle ideas

Shuli Kleinman shared the following in her blog this week:

"Hashem is unfathomable but He wants to have a relationship with us in this world.  Thus He creates something, a portion of light, a Name for Himself through which we can relate to something that He desires from us, which is that we love and fear Him and know that He is all there is."

And along the same lines, I read the following paragraph this week, and it answered some lingering questions for me. Here, see what you think -

ALL IS PREDETERMINED EXCEPT FOR
YIRAT SHAMAYIM [FEAR AND ‘SEEING’ OF G-D]

"Of course we have free will and we can trace things that happen in our lives to our actions and choices, but on a deeper level superceding our actions and choices there is predetermination happening in our lives. The only thing that is truly in our own realm of influence is our ability to see that G-d is doing it all, and to have awe and amazement at that fact."  Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz


And finally, this quote from my JewishAmerica email on Parashat Vayeshev this week, "Furthermore, when things look dark, G-D may drop clues to let us know that he is with us. Picking up on these clues can give us strength and encouragement to deal with crisis." 

The Smoothness Factor - Do you wonder about it, too?

I often wonder about things that go very smoothly in my life, by contrast to other issues, events and relationships that seem to be awkward and difficult, even chaotic.

Do you wonder about the "smoothness factor" in your life, too?

Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz recently said the following, and I am taking it to heart this week:

"Get yourself back into the area of the smoothness factor. Put on your smoothness factor glasses.

See the ease or the dis-ease of various events in your life, relationships in your life and challenges in your life. See the pressures and the pleasures and see how smooth they are, or their lack of smoothness. See them in the light of smoothness, as an indication of business that has been accomplished in previous lifetimes, or not.

And then act upon it with that awareness, that understanding, that consciousness. Then you can re-frame your ability to cope and to respond to immediate challenges, and see them as rectification of previous lifetimes.

This will make your responses more primal and more profound."

Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz

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