Love! The Golden Rule – new review of “Giving”

Aryeh Siegel ● The Times of Israel blog

“…and love your fellow as yourself…” [Lev. 19:18]
Rabbi Akiva says: “This is a great general principle of the Torah.”
[Midrash Raba, Genesis Ch. 24]

“…God asks of us to love. This may sound simple, but it turns out that it doesn’t come naturally; and it takes time and effort to learn to do it. To love others, we must uncover hidden forms of our self-interested concerns. Only then can we direct our thoughts, feelings, and actions toward giving to others. In addition, we need to recognize the aspect of divinity in each human being we encounter. When we see the greatness of others, this awakens within us our love for them. In particular, the greatness in their aspect of divinity connects our love of them to a love of God.”*

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Wash Your Hands! The Corona Commandment

Aryeh Siegel ● The Times of Israel blog

“The priests must not become spiritually unclean by contact with a dead person” [Leviticus 21:1]

Wash your hands! That is the commandment of the Corona era.

In the Middle Ages a person could go half his or her life without ever washing hands. But Jews washed their hands each day after awakening and whenever they ate bread. The most fatal pandemic in recorded history was the Black Death in the 14th century. At that time, fewer Jews died than their Christian neighbors. This has been partly attributed to Jewish ritual hand-washing. (See https://www.jewishhistory.org/the-black-death.)

Of course, Jews in the Middle Ages washed their hands not because of sanitary reasons. They did so out of a commitment to halachic tradition. Was it “good luck” that this saved them from disease? Or is there some providential or mystical connection? I don’t know. But the Kabbalah does reveal a hidden meaning of ritual hand-washing. And our worldwide Corona condition could well benefit from the spiritual healing invoked by its esoteric intention.

The blessing for hand-washing is peculiar. We bless God for instructing us “on the lifting up of hands.” Why “lifting up”? The instruction is to wash our hands. What does it mean to “lift up hands”?

When do we lift up our hands? When we surrender. When we give a blessing. Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Gottlieb* explains that in the Kabbalah the hand is considered to be the archetypal vessel. Hands are used for taking and receiving. When we surrender, we promise not to take. When we place our hands on another’s head in blessing, we ask that he or she be the receiver.

So when we wash our hands, we “lift up” our desire to receive. We raise it spiritually. According to Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal Hasulam)*, this is the essential teaching of Judaism. All of the Torah and the mitzvot – every word and every detail – come to teach us to dedicate ourselves to giving. Our intention in receiving is only to pass it on somehow. With this intention, a Jew is instructed to start each day. And before we receive strength from eating bread, we bring to mind our intention to use that strength to give and not to take.

But wait. Doesn’t the ritual washing have something to do with tumah – spiritual uncleanliness? Yes, precisely. The Kabbalah views tumah as an expression of selfish desire to receive. This is the cause of all our pain. This is the spiritual state we want to avoid – both individually and societally.

Our pure soul is like a priest within us that wants only to serve God. It calls to us to imitate the divine character of giving selflessly. But this soul can be “dirtied” when we succumb to our selfish desire to receive. We must preserve its purity by refusing to make contact with selfishness. For selfishness is spiritual death. This is the inner meaning of the above verse from this week’s Torah portion: The priests must not become spiritually unclean by contact with a dead person.

So let’s wash our hands of hoarding and hate. Let’s wash our hands of divisiveness and cut-throat competition. The Corona commandment is to give a little more and take a lot less.

*Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal Hasulam) is the greatest modern explicator of the Kabbalah. Some of his essays are translated to English in: “Giving – The Essential Teaching of the Kabbalah”. This book also contains a new commentary by Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Gottlieb, who is a disciple of the son of Baal Hasulam. His classes in Hebrew can be watched on the youtube channel ברכת שלום.

Giving – new review

Midwest Book Review ● The Judaic Studies Shelf

Synopsis: Rabbi Yehhuda Lev Ashlag’s underlying message in “Giving: The Essential Teaching of the Kabbalah by ”Baal Hasulam” is that the purpose of our lives is to grow step by step toward a fundamental transformation. Instead of always seeking some form of self-gratification, we can learn to give to others with no self-interest at all.

This is the essential teaching of the Kabbalah portrayed in these essays by Baal Hasulam – the greatest modern explicator of Kabbalah. Rabbi Gottlieb provides an illuminating commentary as a living chassidic rebbe devoted to the practice and teaching of Baal Hasulam’s spiritual path.

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Featured – Heal Us O Lord

Hadassah Magazine’s Guide to Jewish Literature

“During my teaching career I often had students entering the field of medicine and nursing. I would tell them to always remember that they are doing God’s work. Rabbi Dr. Goldstein is such a person, who did God’s work as a chaplain for close to forty years… Rabbis, social workers, physicians, nurses and children with aging parents will want to read this book.”
-Rabbi Dr. Norman Strickman.

New and Noteworthy – I Am for My Beloved

Tradition

This forthright and frank volume is intended for religious couples seeking to enrich their marital and intimate lives within the framework of Jewish tradition. Written by two Orthodox Jewish sex therapists it conveys information about intimacy, anatomy and physiology, sexual relations within the life cycle, and Jewish values and attitudes towards sex – with an informative and practical approach.

New Review – Journey to Open Orthodoxy

Roger S. Kohn AJL News and Reviews

This volume contains eight sections: Principles of Open Orthodoxy, Inclusivity, Spirituality, Gender, Faith, Leadership, Conversion, and Mission. Mission is subdivided into three subdivisions, Spiritual Activism, Shoah, and Israel. The 73 pieces in this volume were mostly written in the last decade, and mostly constitute opinion pieces published in Jewish and general newspapers, but a few are “more scholarly in nature.” Thirteen articles were written specifically for this volume, three (out of ten) in “Inclusivity,” four (out of eight) in “Spirituality.” and three (out of seven) in “Faith.”

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Insights from the Rabbi Who Wrote the Book on ‘Open Orthodoxy’

Jonathan Kirsch ● Jewish Journal

“Orthodoxy” with a capital “O” is a misunderstood and misused word in Judaism. Modern Orthodoxy is used to identify the mainstream of strictly observant Judaism, of course, but “ultra-Orthodox” is an adjective that is applied to the Charedi, Chasidic and Yeshivish movements in Judaism, each of which is distinct from the others. 

So, where does “Open Orthodoxy” fit into the Jewish world?

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Review: Living in the Presence

Harvey Sukenic, Hebrew College Library, Newton Centre, MA ● AJL News and Reviews

Benjamin Epstein, a Jerusalem-based psychologist and rabbi, argues that Jewish mindfulness is both a traditional Jewish practice and essential to our spiritual life and growth. He sees mindfulness, termed yishuv hada’at, as not mere tranquility or peace of mind, but rather “settling into (unifying with) present moment awareness.” For Epstein, yishuv hada’at is a fundamental way of looking at life, indispensable for our basic spiritual life and growth. This state of mindfulness, he posits, can be achieved by anyone with practice and work. Living in the present moment is key to connecting to the Divine. We can be aware of the Divine in everyday life, and in our religious life, but to achieve this, we need a change of attitude; we need to let things be as they are, to slow down, be in the moment, to explore and control our thoughts.

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