Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Abraham + Isaac + Jacob = You

In, “Lessons From Chanukah: Clarity, Purity and Joy,” we explored how these states help us come closer to God and to living a meaningful life. We can all access these states because their potential exists within our spiritual DNA; we inherited them from our Forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Abraham: clarity and kindness

Abraham, the first person to independently discover God, embodied clarity. He also taught us the importance of kindness (Micah 7:20). Clarity together with kindness forms a potent synergy. Here are some examples how:

We are naturally more compassionate to those whom we know went through tough times. With clarity comes the realization that we all have struggles; we all deserve attention, consideration and love. This is especially true for those who are frequently marginalized by society, e.g., orphans, converts, singles, widows, widowers, divorcees, senior citizens, those with disabilities, and children from single parent homes. Pick at least one person or family, and make guiding them your personal project (if you realize the person is not open to your assistance or mentoring, choose someone else). As the Sages teach, (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14), “…If I am [only] for myself, what am I?”

When we think of acts of kindness, we frequently only focus on the “big” acts: Visiting the sick, delivering meals to the needy etc. With clarity, we do not forget the “small” acts of kindness – the daily opportunities to be friendly, helpful and show interest in others. Other examples of acts we frequently consider small are having someone over for a meal, calling to see how someone is doing, giving a person a lift or sharing your expertise. The acts we may think of as small, frequently make a world of difference to the recipients.

Those without clarity may hyper-focus on the big acts of kindness while in other areas of their lives be hurtful and cause distress. With clarity we ensure that we are a force of goodness in all areas of our lives, including with our family, business associates and employees.

Those without clarity do acts of kindness that they feel like doing or that they would like done for them, but they may neglect to think about the unique needs of the recipient. With clarity, we show others empathy and find out what would be most helpful to them.

With clarity, comes the awareness that the opportunity to do acts of kindness is one of the key purposes of this world; in the Next World there are no sick or needy people. Every act of kindness we can do is a priceless opportunity, one which will only be available for a limited time.

Do kind acts with a smile and an open heart, without expecting anything in return – even a thank you. When we act with clarity, we are kind because that is God’s will; that is what we are here to do.

Isaac: moral strength

Isaac embodied purity and moral strength, his prime trait according to our Sages. To live with purity is to live with the awareness that we are before God always. We humble ourselves before Him and surrender to His will.

It is impossible to maintain a constant state of purity without occasional lapses. We have to frequently assess how we are doing in following the will of our Creator, seek guidance from others and make corrections as needed.

One lesson I have learned from writing is that unless you review your work multiple times and ask others for guidance – your writing is suboptimal. If you do not review your life regularly and ask others for guidance – your life is suboptimal, no better than a rough draft. Imagine the shame of handing in to your Creator a rough draft of your life – full of errors and omissions. Life’s goal is to hand in to God your masterpiece, the one you were meant to live.

Ask yourself, “When I meet my Creator and we go over the life I lived, are there any behaviors I will be ashamed of? What can I do now, while there is still time to correct those mistakes?”

The Sages teach, that when we go to Heaven, the sins we repent will not even be mentioned; we will have wiped them clean from our record.

Sometimes, we hold ourselves to an unreasonably high standard, continue to berate ourselves after we have already repented for a sin, or think that repenting for a sin will be too difficult. Seeking guidance from your spiritual mentor can help you avoid these common mistakes. Also, see “Debunking 5 Myths about Repentance.”

Jacob: happiness and integrity

Jacob embodied joy and distilled the essence of gratitude: Not to take anything for granted (Genesis 32:11). Another one of his attributes was truth (Micah 7:20). Integrity is the foundation for lasting joy; a dishonest person's happiness in this world is compromised by fear of being caught and pangs of guilt. In the World to Come that person's bliss will also be limited; ill-gotten gains, unless returned, create an eternal blemish. In contrast, honesty leads to joy, in this world – enjoying the fruits of hard-earned labor – and in the World to Come – eternal reward.

The Sages teach that God brought a flood during the times of Noah because of rampant theft. Even though the people of that generation committed far heinous crimes, it was theft which sealed their fate. Why?

The seal of God is truth (Tractate Yoma 69b). Everything God creates has an aspect of this seal within. When a person is dishonest, they violate creation at its core and bring destruction upon themselves and the world. In contrast, when a person is honest, they strengthen themselves and the world.

The prophet Micah summarized the whole Torah when he said (Micah 6:8), “…What does Hashem require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” Each of the Forefathers parallels the three points Micah made. Doing justice – integrity – that is Jacob. Loving kindness, that is Abraham. Walking humbly with God and maintaining the awareness of His presence in our lives, that is Isaac.

Perhaps the reason Micah ordered these three the way he did and not in the chronological order of the Forefathers, is to teach us the order we have to address these areas. First, ensure that you are honest and ethical. If you are not, your acts of kindness and Divine service will be tainted. Then make sure you are charitable and kind. Once you have met basic standards in how to treat God’s other children – avoiding harm and doing good – then strengthen your observance of the commandments between you and God, the ways you walk humbly with Him. (This is speaking in general terms. Talk to your rabbi or spiritual mentor for personalized guidance.)

The foundation of all three

Underlying clarity, purity and joy is the recognition that we are children of the Almighty. Try the following exercise to assist in feeling as a visceral experience that God is your Father in Heaven. Read out loud the bold sentences below. Imagine a trusted confidante asking you the questions in quotes and pause after each question, tuning into the answer your body gives you. If one of the sentences does not resonate with you, leave it out for now.

I am God’s child. “How does it feel to be God’s child?” My Father loves me. “How does it feel to be loved by your Father?” My Father is always by my side. “How does it feel to have your Father always by your side?” My Father is the all-powerful King of the world. “How does it feel to have a Father who is the King of the world?” I am a prince/princess, the son/daughter of the King of kings. “How does it feel to be a prince/princess, the son/daughter of the King of kings?” My Father has given me awesome abilities. “How does it feel to have awesome abilities?” I can handle my difficulties. “How does it feel to know you can handle your difficulties?” I can rise above my challenges. “How does it feel to know you can rise above your challenges?” I can triumph. “How does it feel to know you can triumph?”

If you don’t feel like a billion bucks and your heart isn’t soaring, then you’re not there yet. With practice, your ability to tap into the positive feelings will grow. This exercise will help give you the clarity to act with purity, befitting your Divine and royal lineage. These thoughts will fill you with confidence and joy, lifting you up when you need encouragement.

The next time you lack clarity on how to act, feel yourself weakening in the face of temptation, or feel weighed down by life’s difficulties, do the above exercise. Then ask yourself, “How does the son/daughter of the King of kings act? How does the royal prince/princess act? How does my Father, the King, want me to act?” These questions will help you honor your values (clarity), maintain your self-respect (purity) and know your innate worth (joy).

Our Creator gave us awesome potential. Key tools to help us reach our Divine potential are clarity, purity and joy. As a descendant of the Forefathers, you have these states waiting within. Come claim your inheritance and become the person you were meant to be.

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