Thursday, April 26, 2012

Iyar and Healing

We now find ourselves in a very special time of year, the counting of the  ha'omer in general, as we refine our character traits,  and the month of Iyar in particular.  The letters of the month IYAR, are an acronym for the words: "Ani Ha-Shem Rofecha" (Exodus 15:26) which translated means, I am Ha-Shem, your Doctor.   Indeed, the Holy Bnei Yisisschar  tells us that this month  is particularly conducive to healing since, during this month our forefathers began eating the Mon (manna) though which  all who were sick  among the Children of Israel were completely healed in preparation for the Giving of the Torah.
I was reminded, this unusual rainy late April evening,  here in Los Angeles, that there is a special segula connected with the month of Iyar.  A segula (literally meaning treasure) is a spiritual cure which defies logic, which has been handed down trough oral tradition from generation to generation, and which clearly works. It is brought down (I've seen it quoted in the name of three holy rebbes: The Ohev Yisrael of Apt, The Rebbe Reb Pinchas Koritzer and The Rebbe Reb Menachem Mendel of Riminov) that any rain that falls during the month of Iyar is a great remedy to cure all illnesses.  To affect the cure, one needs to stand in the rain with one's open one's mouth an let  the rain  fall directly in.

May the merit of all the holy tzidikim protect us, and may this month bring you any healings and deliverances that you need.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pesach, ghetto slavery and balance

Having been raised in LA, in a color blind home, I was always taught to view people based upon their actions, behavior or spirit as opposed to the color or their skin or their features. And yet, it is important to consider what factors do contribute to the resentment and contempt that so many white folks have towards blacks. What I speak of, though, in my humble opinion has little to do with racism or discrimination, but much more so to a social phenomenon, one that my educated black friends and associates tell me causes them to cringe as well. This is the phenomenon of the "ghetto" stereotype, which to my thinking is deeply inbred and whose roots go back 150 years. In Erich Fromm's book, "Escape from Freedom" he speaks about two types of freedom, freedom from and freedom to. Freedom from is the freedom without considering what comes next, and without structure and a framework, a slave remains a slave, even though he is no longer in physical bondage. This, I believe, is the root of our tragic Afro-American experience, which has resulted in a demographic group which has significantly higher crime, much low rates of 2 parent families, a generally lower level of education, a much higher rate of cardio-vascular disease, a much shorter life span, and so much anger and resentment toward mainstream society. It is a culture where "bad" is good, and where it is cool to not smile (with the notable exception of Magic Johnson!).

Yet, I strongly believe that had an internal "Marshall Plan" of sorts been instituted after the Civil War to promote and encourage integration into mainstream society, teaching skills, and making available educational opportunity, that we would be a very different country today, a country which with each successive generation would be farther away from this slave mentality. Yet sadly, our ghettos not only perpetuate it, they glorify it, ironically serving as role models for white young people to imitate. This is the essential flaw that Chesed (kindness) without Tiferes (the beauty that comes from balance) presents, and is also, the avoda, the character trait which we are specifically enjoined to work on today, this 3rd day of the omer, in our journey toward the receiving of the Torah, a little less than 7 weeks from now. And it is that Torah which enabled our forefathers to receive as their freedom some 3300 years ago, a freedom which not only enabled them to escape from the bondage of Egypt, but much more importantly gave them the structure and purpose to become a covenantal community, free to serve G-d and connect with him 24/7, and free to fulfill all the many commandments that could only be observed in the holy land of Israel.

So too, as we are l watch events in the middle east continuing to unfold, I fear that this same problem is repeating itself, just as it did when colonial Africa was freed a generation ago: That without strong leadership, education and moral guidance the exhilaration of liberation will be short lived and will be replaced by a new tyranny.

It is important to understand, also, that freedom and balance have a connection to our health and well being, as well. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov tells us that the root of all illness is internal conflict and lack of balance, and just as we find in Chinese medicine, all phenomena are relative, both internally and externally. For if any organ or system dominates another, or if any is weaker than another, illness will result. Our goal with every activity that we engage in, should be to have a consciousness and awareness of what we are doing, making sure to always promote health and balance by our actions. This was the lesson that Hillel Hazakein, made sure to teach his students. Once, when he was about the leave the Beis Hamedrash (study hall), his students asked Hillel where he was going. He answered that he was going to do a mitzva, "and what mitzva would that be?", they asked. "I'm going to the bathhouse" He answered. "And that's a mitzva?" " Yes, just as they wash and carefully maintain the statues of he king to keep them clean, how much more so should I who was created in the image of G-d, show my respect for that image by keeping it clean." Another time, again, Hillel's students asked him where he was going. This time he answered that he was going to do an act of kindness for a guest in his home. "But do you have a guest every day? rebbe?", they asked. "But is not my poor soul a guest in this body? Today it is here, but tomorrow it will be gone!"

Monday, April 2, 2012

Why I live in Los Angeles (and why, maybe, I shouldn't?) Part III

Back around 6 months ago I wrote about why, after all these years I am still here in LA, and really quite happy and fulfilled. In the last two weeks, though, 2
occurrences have got me reflecting and reconsidering where I need to be:

Last week we had the wonderful opportunity of hosting our son Yechiel and granddaughter Chayale (age 1 1/4) for a week. I had hoped that this trip would ignite a spark to perhaps set the wheels in motion so as to have Yechiel, Rivki and family relocate here in LA for a couple of years, at least. I considered three possible advantages of having them move here: 1. It has been tough for them to make ends meet, and each month they seem to fall a couple of hundred dollars short. Perhaps there might be a position enabling them to save up a little. 2. Yechiel is a gifted and charismatic teacher and scholar in halacha, gemara, chasidus as well as kabbalah, and though he has followers in Elad, Israel, where he lives, I feel that his talents could much better be realized in a place like LA. and 3. Living here in LA for a couple of years would enable our grandchildren to learn and master English. Indeed the trip was clearly informative, but in a very unexpected way.

As I have written of before, I absolutely believe in and constantly work on focusing in on my "hevel ha'lev." I believe that we are constantly being spoken to by Ha-Shem, a message that our hearts receive, deep inside, of guidance on what is in our best interests, and how we can best connect to our Source. This communication, the kabbalists call "hevel ha'lev" and we all have it within our grasp to fine tune our receivers. Getting back to Yechiel and Chayale, though, it was interesting to note that this trip was probably the first time that Chayale had ever seen a dog, and rather than being afraid, she was delighted--chasing it with her doll stroller laughing and barking back, "uf uf!" in pure delight as the bewildered dog ran away from her! It got me thinking, this purity, this joi de vivre, how long would it last living in a city like Los Angeles? Opportunities? I made it very clear to a number of community leaders and educators who knew Yechiel growing up here in LA that he might be available should an appropriate opportunity present itself, and essentially the impression that I received was that the economy here in Los Angeles was actually worse than it is in Israel, and it probably would not change any time soon. But if something did come up, they would call me. (yeah, right!)

Bottom line, to relocate and uproot everything, based upon a nebulous maybe, seemed to be as clear a message as could be. (furthermore, it now seems that a local "Zevulun" is interested in a learning partnership with Yechiel, which should put his finances in balance, IY"H anyway!). So though it was bittersweet saying goodbye to them, in my heart I know that Israel is the place where he needs to be.

The second incident that I want to share with you happened this morning. My sister Hope has needed to move as her apartment is being converted to condos. Last week she excitedly shared that she had found a guy on Craig's list who owned a condo in a nice area who wanted to lease it out for 6 months for a reasonable price. They met with him last week, and gave him $5000 for first last and security, and moved in yesterday. But as they were moving in, the building manager chased after them, and informed them that the lease was fraudulent and the name he used wasn't even his, and the guy not only didn't own the condo, but was being evicted for not paying his rent. Therefore, the $5000 was lost, and they needed to get out of the apartment within 3 days. Hope called me this morning asking me what she could do, and I told her what I would have told myself, had I been in her situation, that everything that happens is guidance and communication from Ha-Shem, we need to reflect and hone in to discern what that message is, and we need to have absolute certainty that everything that happens comes from Him and is for the very best. But how to do you explain this to someone who has suffered so much already and is trying so hard to put her life in order? And who now seem to be on the threshold of losing everything she owns and being out on the street?

As I told her, I believe that the message is exactly the same, and even though one might think "easy for him to say!" nonetheless, do we have any constructive alternative to consider? Yes, this approach is asking someone to blindly go against all logic. Yet, it is that strength of character and optimism which is the essence of Judaism. As King Solomon says in Mishlei (proverbs) "know Him in all of your ways, and He will straighten you paths." It is the knowing and the trusting that opens new opportunities for us, and often, what we think is in our best interest really isn't, and only our Wise and Loving Father can see the total picture.

So what's going to happen with Hope, her husband and son? Well first, I offered to have them stay with us as long as they need to, but our place is just too small. I told Hope to contact all of her friends to see if someone might be able to take them in, for at least a month, so that they could find a place, but it seems that now that the chips are down, no one seems to be able or willing to help.

I've put out feelers and have made it clear that I will 100% vouch for them should someone have for rent a two bedroom ground floor or apartment with an elevator, in a decent area of LA, preferably in the west side, but really anywhere.

G-d willing they won't lose everything they have and G-d willing the story will have a sweet and happy ending, but again, I see this as another reflection of the filth, deceit and financial instability that our lives are surrounded with, as well as the lack of depth that so many relationships have (consider "friends" on Facebook?)

As I said, if anyone reading this has apartments for rent, please do contact me, and I will guarantee that you could not find better tenants, and I will stand behind them. As our sages tell us, a good name is a cherished possession indeed!

Again, as I review these last two weeks, I reflecting on whether it really is wise to stay here for the indefinite future or whether the time to start slowly considering a move to Israel has now arrived.