You have probably noticed the newest phenomena. The pedestrian holding the iphone who walked right in front of your car after your light already turned green. The group of excited smartphone carrying teens converging in front of an office building on a main street. And just maybe, the new trend has already sucked you in and you find yourself wandering the streets in search of hidden monsters. It is everywhere. It is the Pokemon Go obsession.
This game of “augmented reality” has such an exciting appeal because it brings the fictional world of gaming right into your world. Your surroundings are literally transformed into the game board and you are right there inside the action. Through the screen of the smartphone you are able to see things around you that the naked eye cannot see. A walk down the street becomes an adventure of battling bad guys, capturing monsters and climbing from level to level. Mundane daily life turns into an adventure.
And as I watch this phenomena unfold, I can’t help but see the strong comparison between the dual state of consciousness experienced by the wandering Pokemon Go player and the dual consciousness that every "wandering Jew" has had to carry with him throughout our history.
For over 2000 years, the Jewish people have lived in a state of “augmented reality”. To the untrained eye, we just seem to be wandering through history, randomly moving from stop to stop, hoping that we will be accepted, that we won’t be persecuted, and that we will be able to establish a thriving Jewish community there.
But just like the Pokemon player who knows that as he travels the world, his smart device will tell him of the hidden monsters that exist all around him for him to capture in order to advance to the next level, the wandering Jew with a well-developed awareness of our Jewish destiny knows that as he travels from place to place, each stop will contain its own hidden “monsters” in the form of the unique challenges we are meant to overcome and the potential that we are supposed to tap in to as part of our mission as the Jewish people.
One great scholar, Rabbi Gedaliah Shorr in his book Ohr Gedalyahu describes this principle in the following way:
It is known that the concept of exile is so that the Jewish people can elevate the sparks of holiness that they discover among the nations. When there was a Temple, all holiness would be drawn from around the world and concentrated in the Land of Israel. But when the Jewish people sinned and fell from that level, they needed to go through exile in order to bring back all of that holiness. As we see throughout our history in Exile, many countries give us permission to live amongst them for many years, and then suddenly turn against us into our enemies and evict us from their land. The reason is that after we complete our mission in that place, it becomes our mission to go elsewhere to complete our mission there.
The Jew in exile experiences a different reality than everyone else. As he wanders from place to place and remains true and connected despite the unique challenges that present themselves there, he is actually “capturing” the potential positive forces that exist in those places and returning them to their holy source, bringing us one step closer to Jerusalem.
As we approach the time period in the Jewish calendar known as the 3 weeks, from the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th of Av, our spiritual goal is to strengthen ourselves as we reflect on the past two millennium in Exile and all that we have been through. It is a time to remind ourselves that even though we have faced so many challenges and sometimes seem to be so far away from where we would like to be as a Jewish people, this whole experience is all part of God’s master plan to bring us back home as an even stronger people.
Both the Pokemon player as well as the Wandering Jew see a different reality; they are in tune to the challenge at hand that only they can see, and they don’t lose sight of the goal of winning the game.
Who knows 10? The author of the 5th chapter of the Book of Avos certainly does!
The chapter opens with an impressive list showing how the number 10 recurs throughout the first two books of the Torah, setting the foundation of the Jewish people. The list includes:
Additionally we know that the number 10 makes many more appearances in Jewish life, such as:
What is the significance of the number 10? Why is it so prevalent? And what did the author want us to learn from this?
The mystics explain that the number 10 and the corresponding letter in the Hebrew alphabet, the letter Yud (which looks like this: י) represents the hidden spiritual dimension that permeates all of the physical world. While the single digit numbers represented the separate parts of the physical world, the number ten represents the uniting of separate parts into a single unit with a single purpose.
One can in fact see from the very shape of the letter Yud, that it is almost invisible, yet it is present in every single letter of the alphabet, just as the spiritual dimension is always there yet not always noticeable. The Hebrew letter yud has no separate parts; it is nothing more than a dot, since it represents absolute unity and harmony within a system.
With this in mind we can understand why the number 10 recurs in all of these instances:
One can truly appreciate, based on this, that Jewish people, whose task is to elevate all of mankind, are referred to as Yehudim (in Hebrew) or Yiddin (in Yiddish) which sounds awfully similar to the word YUD. It is through the spiritual service that we contribute to the world, that allows us to bring unity and harmony and ultimately reveal the hidden spiritual dimension that permeates the entire physical world.
So no matter where you are, who you are with, or how many people are around you, don’t forget, always be the number 10!
“There are three crowns: the crown of Kehuna (Priesthood), the crown of Malchus (Kingship), and the crown of Torah, but the crown of a Good Name is the highest of all.” (Avos 4:12)
Remember when we were kids and we dreamed about becoming the President, or a movie star, or an astronaut, or a pro NFL quarterback, or a holy mystic?
Then as we grew up and reality set in we became content with being just “regular” people.
In Temple times, kids also dreamed. They dreamed about becoming the Kohen Gadol (high priest), or the King, or becoming a member of the Sanhedrin (the court located in the Beis Hamikdash) to look up to. But in order to join any of these ranks, you had to be born into the right tribe, the right family, or be extremely brilliant. Otherwise, you were just a “regular” Jew.
The struggle of finding one’s place in Judaism is something many people struggle with. Sure, there are people that connect easily through prayer, Torah study, charity or performance of Mitzvot. But the “classic” ways of connection doesn’t work for everyone. And if you haven’t found your connection in the standard places, where does that leave you?
The author of the previously mentioned statement in Avos is addressing just that. He begins by telling us there are three crowns. Then, strangely enough, it goes on to mention a fourth, a “Good name”. What is the meaning of a “good name” that is higher than the other lofty levels mentioned, and why did it not make it into the original count?
What is a name? A name is your label of uniqueness. Aside from being the way people identify you, a person’s name hints to his inner strengths and talents. It is given by one’s parents with a divine inspiration. When a person develops a “good name”, it means that he is fulfilling his individual mission in the world. This is valued by the Almighty more than any position one can hold in the hierarchy.
For this reason he begins by mentioning three crowns. Our human eyes easily recognize glory when it comes with a bells and whistles like a fancy title or great fanfare. But the fourth crown is much more subtle, recognizable only by those who are sensitive enough to realize the greatness that exists in the uniqueness and creative potential of every individual.
Our Sages tell tales of “hidden Tzadikim”, righteous people whose greatness was recognized only by a select few. Among these special people was a butcher named Nannas, who excelled in the trait of honoring his parents, a doctor named Abba, who exemplified modesty, and a pair of comedians who brought joy to the people around them.
Furthermore, our Sages teach that in the next world, “holy Souls sit in a circle around the aura of the Almighty with their crowns on their heads”. Which crown is being refered to? In the next world there is only that fourth crown. And why a circle? Because in a circle everyone in equidistant from the middle. (This is the reason that Jews dance in a circle.)
We all have our unique gift that we can contribute to the world. And that unique contribution is the crown our souls will wear for eternity. So go ahead. Be yourself. What crown do you wear?
“Consider three things and you won’t come into the clutches of sin. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you will have to give judgment and reckoning. You have come from a putrid drop. You are going to a place of decay. And you will give judgment and reckoning before the King of Kings”.
Carpe Diem! Live in the moment!
This has become one of the most popular slogans of today and a frequent piece of advice people give each other. It is exciting and enticing in a world filled with stress and anxiety.
There are many situations when this is a great piece of advice. Appropriate times to be completely “in the moment” would be:
But there is a danger to living in the moment. When we are being tempted with potential pitfalls, bad habits and unwanted behavior, we are in fact being trapped by the moment.
This is the intention of the author of the statement above. He advises that In order to avoid the “clutches of sin” we should stop and think about “where you came from, where you are going, and before whom you will have to give judgment and reckoning.”
What are three things one should never think about when trying to enjoy a fancy, gourmet dinner at an upscale restaurant?
Number one: “I wonder what goes on in the kitchen”.
Number two: “I wonder how much the bill is going to come out to?”
And number three: “wow, this is gonna cause some serious heartburn!”
You see, once we start putting things in context of the past, the future and the potential consequences, our perception focuses on the true reality of the matter and we are less drawn to the attraction of the moment.
When we feel that we are constantly stumbling, we need to train ourselves to immediately become aware of the bigger reality. Don’t be swept away by the honey glaze, or the juice dripping down the sides, or the colorful stuff sprinkled on top that make it seem so appetizing. Ask yourself what are the real “ingredients”? Do they take me closer or farther from where I am trying to get to? And what is the price I will have to pay down the line?
The 3 Big Distractions
If we take a deeper look at this we see that these questions are actually relating to the three drives that cause a person to fall: “Lust, Jealousy, and Honor”. Lust is the drive for physical gratification. Jealousy is the drive for great wealth and assets. And honor is the drive to be in complete control of your world and everyone else in it.
To the drive of lust we ask, why are you so infatuated by the body? Do you not see that it comes from the most putrid of substances? Do you think something so empty can bring you real happiness? Can’t you see that you are being swept away by a complete illusion?
To the drive of jealousy we ask, what will all this bring you? Do you think that you will be able to take any of the “bling bling” with you to the grave? Do you realize that time is limited and you can be using it to acquire something so much greater?
And to the drive of honor, we ask, are you really fooled by this false power you have been granted in this world? Do you realize that the moment will come when you will stand before the King of Kings and the “real you” will be so evident and clear that you will pass judgment on yourself for the acts you engaged in that distanced you from the Almighty? Do you realize that this moment will last an eternity?
Live in the “Bigger Picture”
When being tempted, do everything to escape the moment and enter into the true “bigger reality”.
From where did you come? You are a Soul and therefore came from a place so beautiful and exalted!
Where are you going? To the “Next World”, a world of eternal pleasure that you have built for yourself brick by brick.
Before whom must you give judgment and reckoning? Before your Father in heaven who loves you more than you could ever imagine.
Consider these three things and not only will you be dissuaded from the sin, you will be uplifted and filled with joy, as you really realize that you are not only enjoying the moment, you are tasting eternity!
Hillel said: Do not separate yourself from the community; and do not trust in yourself until the day of your death. Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place. (Avos 2:5)
In the spiritual roller-coaster of life, nothing is guaranteed. Inspiration comes and goes. Motivation is strong today and absent tomorrow. One of the biggest challenges of living a life of self-growth is maintaining consistency. Without consistency, the daily grind of life will get in the way of what matters most and we will find ourselves stagnating in those areas.
What tool can we use to battle this trend? Hillel teaches us the answer: Your community.
When we speak of community, we speak of a group of people who are unified in their commitment to grow together in some area of life. A community can be the people in one’s geographical neighborhood if they care for and watch our for one another. It can be members of the Synagogue, if the culture there is one of love and mutual respect. It can be a Chavurah (study group), a book club, a support group or even an online forum, if the participants genuinely care about each other.
The beauty of community is that when one member of the community is inspired, that fire catches and the other members feel it. In a community, positive energy is contagious. And when one person is down, or going through a time of difficulty or pain, the others are there to lift them up. In a community there is a sense of accountability. Together, the members of the community create a healthy peer pressure and set a certain standard for one another, and no one wants to be the one to lower the bar.
But there is one danger that always threatens to undermine the power of community. And Hillel warns us about that too. And that is: The judgmental community.
When people start judging other people in their community, when the community becomes a toxic place where everyone needs to fit in a certain box otherwise they feel unaccepted or like outcasts, then that community is certainly not serving its purpose. It is no longer a safe space for growth. It becomes a space that drains its members of their energy, creativity, uniqueness and vitality.
The supportive community pushes its members to be greater at a pace that is healthy for them. It cares for its members without creating judgement. It offers support when necessary, but gives space when appropriate. It creates a common vision for all, but allows for each individual to express themselves. Supportive communities fuse together the power of many and the power of one creating the optimal space for consistent spiritual growth.
Are you part of an ideal community?
“Provide yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a companion, and judge all men favorably” (Avos 1:6)
“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” With these brilliant words, Hellen Keller captured the secret to fulfilling our mission in this world: to constantly be learning the lessons “life” has to teach us. Learning is living. Learning is fulfillment. Learning is happiness. Things that seem irrelevant today can be the key to tomorrow’s success. Today’s disappointments and failures can hold the secret to tomorrow’s victories. Today’s mistakes can be the tools for the triumphs of tomorrow.
To become a “learner”, however, requires that one finds for him/herself the proper teachers. There are three categories of teachers one must strive to have, and each category provides lessons the other ones cannot:
1) Our mentors- The people who we admire, who inspire us, whose positive energy is so contagious that we just want to be better people when we are around them. It is these teachers who challenge us to envision ourselves being greater than we currently are, and motivate us to live those visions.
2) Our friends and family- The people we trust and share our secrets with. Those loved ones who can tell from the look in our eyes if we had a good day or a bad day, if we are happy or down, confident or scared. The ones who know they can smack us on the back of our heads when we get out of line, and who will shower us with praise when we meet our successes. They are the fuel that constantly keeps us heading in the right direction.
3) The people that make us uncomfortable-This category might possibly be the most valuable on of all. Believe it or not, they are the people we really don’t like being around at all. It’s those who make us a little tense, who do the little things that get under our skin, acts that we frown upon, and display character traits we view as negative. Those are the ones who can be our greatest teachers. Allow me to explain.
There is a well-known proverb that “others are only mirrors of you”. This idea can be explained both from a psychological standpoint and a spiritual standpoint. Psychologically speaking, we only love and hate things in other people according to what we love and hate about ourselves. A character trait that we ourselves don’t possess won’t affect us when we see it in someone else. Therefore when we see a flaw in someone else and it bothers us, e.g. “he’s so irresponsible”, “she’s so into herself”, we must ask the question, is there something that is really bothering me about myself that I am just projecting onto this person?
Spiritually speaking, the Almighty in his infinite perfection designed the world in a way that a person’s surroundings are tailor made to convey the lessons that one has to learn. As the Baal Sham Tov would say, “Nowadays, even though God doesn’t speak to us face to face, he is always speaking to us from behind”. When we see something that bothers us, He is sending us a personal message. When someone gives us a criticism and our knee-jerk reaction is to blow it off as illegitimate, we have to realize that for some reason or another, the Almighty wanted us to hear these words.
Life is a constant learning experience. To experience it right we need to find the right teachers. And very often those teachers might be the most unlikely of people.