Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why I live in Los Angeles-and not Israel (part 2)

A colleague who I assume lives in Israel, expressed to me after reading part one of this article, that "with all of the positives regarding other Jewish communities, let me remind you that only Israel is our real home - period."

I can only speak for myself, but I believe that these sentiments reflect anyone who has been to Israel, and has the depth and vision to appreciate what they have seen and experienced. I want to share with you my experience: Back in '74, I graduated from YU, and was accepted to Shaalavim. My intention was to go and learn for a year, become more proficient in hebrew, raise up a notch the level of my learning, return to YU, learn for smicha, and consider the opportunities that would be presented as that point. It was exciting, the prospect of going to a foreign country (As an immature 22 year old I had never been to Israel, and spoke a very broken hebrew), but my exposure to Israel and Israelis, heretofore has been anything but endearing: I had found Israelis to be pushy, aggressive, dogmatic, smelly, and anything but what I had viewed as spiritual. In LA where I grew up, I had been an NCSY kid, and we viewed the Bnei Akiva kids as reactionary Israeli cheerleaders, with little depth, seeming to worship Eretz Yisrael above the Ribono Shel Olam and the Torah . BTW that's one of the reasons why I chose Shaalavim, specifically because it was not a Mizrachi Yeshiva, as it was associated with Poalei Agudat Yisrael, which at the time was a much bigger tent, far more inclusive and quite different than Kipa sruga Mizrachi, but I digress. A funny thing happened: though, when I got there: I fell in love with Israel, was overwhelmed and totally caught off guard by the depth and intensity of its kedusha, and I have longed to return ever since. I have gone back many, many times since, trying to spend Tishrei and the period betwen Lag Baomer and Shavuos there each year, though alas, I haven't always been successful in doing so. As a great mekubal in Bnei Brak told me, I'll know when the time is right for me to make aliya. But the biggest problem that I face each time, leaving Israel, is the "chalal", the void that I feel. It is enormous and unbearable. So how have I learned to cope and function in Galus? By talking to Ha-Shem on a daily basis, really, talking out loud in a place of privacy without distraction, I have come to the realization of the importance of bringing Eretz Yisrael with me into Galus. There is a different mindset, a different set of values and a connectivity that contagiously infects, wisens and deepens one's neshama being there, at least it does to me. By carefully considering how important every decision I make is, and by constantly asking myself whether my actions will please the Ribono Shel Olam, I am comforted in feeling that I have brought Eretz Yisrael with me wherever I am, even in Los Angeles. Of course, nothing replaces being there, and I long for each opportunity that presents itself for me to come, but in the meantime, I find solace and joy in each day, even here, and am extremely grateful for the enormous blessings that He has granted me as I continue to long to be there.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why I live in Los Angeles

I love life, I look forward to the adventure that each day brings, and ... I L O V E L A !

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

resetting ourselves when we get stuck

One of the fascinating parallels between Classical Chinese Medicine, going back at least, over 2000 years to the time of the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic), and Traditional Jewish Medicine, is the importance that both traditions give to emotions. With specificity, by treating organ or channel imbalances, a skilled practitioner is also able to help balance and resolve severe emotional problems as well, whether depression, anger, mania, worrying and over-thinking, fear or fright. However often, when we are confronted with the unexpected, we just don't have the tools, or the presence of mind, to do anything constructive, and we get stuck, despite our best intentions.

Getting unstuck requires a sensitivity and a realization that we are in a bad place and are disconnected from what really matters: ourselves, our environment and our Maker. The Torah teaches us that this requires us to listen to the female aspect of our psyches, and by setting boundaries for ourselves, we are able to conquer these destructive emotions, for as the Mishna asks, "Who is the strong person (gibor-meaning the one who masters the trait of gevuva or boundaries)? The one who conquers his inclinations."

But, again, this is easier said than done, particularly in the heat of the battle, for as our sages tell us concerning last weeks Torah Portion: "When you go out to war against your enemy...." This enemy that that the Torah is speaking about is that force which drives us to disconnect from

I want to suggest, therefore, that there are 6 basic things that we can do, when we realize that we are stuck, to reset and reconnect ourselves to the Lifeforce to whom we all depend:

1. Blink. Blinking resets our nervous system by helping to stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system (the "rest and digest" part of the autonomic nervous system). It provides moisture to the eyes, and will usually stimulate #2:

2. Sigh. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches that there is no activity more important that we can engage in than Hisbodedus (speaking to Ha-Shem out loud the way you would speak to a dear friend, giving over your burdens to Him), and an essential component to successful hisbodedus is "krechtzing" or unloading a deep sigh. For as Rabbi Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan (1, 109): "When you sigh and groan over your unfulfilled yearning for holiness, it causes you to be attached to the ruach (the life-force) of holiness. This is because sighing is drawing breath – which is life itself!"

3. Smile. Smiling brings about some amazing biochemical changes, such as lowering blood pressure, strengthening the immune system, releasing endorphins (the body's natural pain killers) and serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter), and, of course, making us feel happier (even a fake smile!)

4. Drink water. Our bodies, as is well known, are over 2/3 water, but what is not as well known, is how delicate our fluid distribution system is, ( which the Chinese call the San Jiao) and how easy it is to become dehydrated. From my experience, I have found without exception, that those who allow their emotions to get the best of them ALL become dehydrated. Furthermore, dehydration creates a more acid pH, which causes our bodies to break down and become sick.

5. Powernap. Nothing exhausts us more than losing control of our emotions. But there's a wonderful antidote for exhaustion: The powernap! The trick is to not sleep for more than 15 minutes to a half hour, for amazingly, each 15 minutes that we sleep during the day, is worth an hour at night! But always remember to gratefully give over your soul for safekeeping to Ha-Shem, even for 15 minutes.

6. Hope. The Midrash (Braishis Rabba: 98:20) teaches us:
"Rabbi Yitzchok said, 'Anything is possible with hope! Suffering can be released with hope! Sanctifying the Name of Ha-Shem can be achieved through hope! The merit of our forefathers can be tapped to reach Ha-Shem with hope! The spiritual pleasure of the world to come can be achieved with hope!
...Undeserved grace is granted by Ha-Shem with hope! (And) one is granted forgiveness by Ha-Shem with hope!"

Wishing everyone a wonderful new year, a year of hope, and a year when we are able to vigilantly keep an awareness of ourselves, so that our actions cause our friends to smile and our Most Beloved Friend to smile.
Name of Ha-Sh