This year, the secular month of November corresponds exactly with the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. Cheshvan happens to be the real name of the month, but it is traditionally referred to as “Marcheshvan”, the particle “mar” meaning “bitter”. Why bitter? Because there are no Jewish holidays during that month. Taking in consideration that we just had a marathon of Jewish holidays last month, why be bitter? We should feel relieved!
We must understand that a Jewish holiday has a huge impact on our souls. When we come to pray during a holy day, we are aligned with powerful energy that brings not only blessings but also has the power to elevate our souls. This is the true reason it is called “mar”, bitter: this month, we don’t have the special gift of a holy day with all the blessings that come with it.
If we don’t have a gift of a holy day, then it is up to us to transform this month! We need to transform the bitterness into sweetness. If we do so, then every day can become a holy day. You see, during a Jewish holiday, we get blessings from above, this month, it is our turn: the blessings come below. This month, more than the other ones, we must elevate and bring blessings around us. If we decide to sweeten the world every day, not only do we remove bitterness, but we increase Light in the Universe in preparation of Chanukah. There are many ways to sweeten the world, here is a list but it is only a beginning:
This month, may you be blessed with all the sweetness and love the world can offer you, and may you share these blessings with the world!
Shavuot, like all Jewish holidays is filled with miraculous energy, although most people don't take advantage of it unfortunately. On this holiday, our tradition tells us that G-d gave us the Torah and that the Jewish people were only too eager to receive it, as it says in Shemot (24:7): "Naaseh venishmah", "We will do and we will hear", meaning we will do first and then we will make sense of it. This energy of giving/receiving is important to understand. On the one hand, cosmically, every year during Shavuot the energy of the Universe is aligned to give more than usual. On the other hand, on the first Matan Torah ever, when G-d gave the Torah at Mount Sinai, there was also the energy of receiving. People unconditionally wanted to receive.
Obviously, "Giving" cannot truly happen unless there is also "Receiving". If we want to collect rain water in a bucket, obviously we won't put a lid on it. We are like a vessel. A closed vessel cannot receive what is being given; the vessel needs to be wide open.
This concept is important to understand on the level of Shavuot, and on the level of everyday life. Concerning the level of Shavuot, there is tremendous cosmic energy waiting to be taken in. It is the energy of Torah: "Life", "Light", "Receiving" and it helps us fulfill our mission in life. If we don't consciously take this energy, if we aren't an open vessel to receive it, this cosmic gift returns to where it came from. Therefore, observing the Shavuot holiday is enough to fill our lives with unbelievable blessings.
There is another level, the one of everyday life. Although each holiday has a particular power, Divine energy is always ready to be given every day, every moment. It comes in the form of Divine sustenance -whether we are aware or not, whether we want it or not. If we didn't have this Divine sustenance, we wouldn't be alive and the world would cease to exist. The Universe has an endless amount of energy waiting to be used, and the amount we receive is up to us. Again, we need to be like an open vessel in order to receive what is truly intended. This energy primarily manifests itself as "incredible coincidences", events that wonderfully and beautifully align themselves in a way to help us accomplish our mission.
You may wonder how to be spiritually aligned to a holiday, or how to be an open vessel to receive blessings... It may seem very abstract! In reality, it is quite simple. The first step is to genuinely desire it, and the second step is to ask for it: intention and Tefilla. The Kotzker Rebbe said: "Where do you find G-d? Wherever you let G-d in!" The moment we bring Shabbat or a Jewish Holiday into our life is the moment we open the door to an abundance of blessings. The moment we do a daily mitzvah with kavanah, with intention, our body vibrations match the ones from the Divine. At that moment, we are in harmony with the Universe and we become an open vessel, ready to receive -and share!
May you be blessed this Shavuot season with an abundance of Divine energy, and may you manifest your highest dreams for the greater good.
Who are You?
I am what I am
And I am telling you
To do what you must.
To look inside
To turn inside
What else do you need?
Much Much more.
Trust. Feel. Get in touch.
You will see
How things turn out.
You will smile
Give yourself to the world
And the world will fill you.
Blessings you cannot even fathom
Will come your way.
The period after Pesach is called the "Omer". We are instructed to count the days for seven weeks. On the 50th day, we will celebrate our next Jewish holiday: Shavuot. Counting the days is an exercise full of wisdom, teaching us about the "now".
While counting, it isn't about yesterday or tomorrow, it is truly about now, and what I am doing to elevate the "now". After 33 days, we celebrate Lag B'Omer which is traditionally observed by building bonfires and celebrating with song and dance. The flame from the bonfire is such an important symbol in Judaism: each Shabbat and holiday is ushered by lighting candles for example. Our holy texts say that the soul of man is G-d's candle (Proverbs 20:27). Another flame analogy is found in the verse, "a candle is a commandment and Torah is light" (Proverbs 6/23). The flame also represents the Divine spark that resides in each of us and of course it represents human passion. We all know that the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem had a permanent fire going on. Knowing that this Sanctuary is alive in each of us, the question is "what can I do to keep this fire going now?"
In general, we live our lives in three time zones, that is to say, the past, the present, and the future. Why am I suffering now? Is it something I did in the past? What I should do in the future? Well, I should plan something in the future.
The fact is that the past is gone. There are memories of it, but everything in the past no longer exists, and everything in the future has not yet arisen. There is only one place where one can actually be, and that is now.
I would like to share with you what Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach said about each moment counting:
"People walk around sad because they don't know what to do with their future. You have this minute right now. What are you doing with it? The difference between sadness and joy is very simple. Sadness always tells you: 'Oy vey! What are you going to do in ten minutes? What will you do ten years from now?' If you are really filled with joy for one minute, then you will know what to do the next minute also. What is God giving you? God is giving you this minute. God hasn't given you tomorrow. Of course I don't know what to do tomorrow, because I didn't receive it yet. Sadness is very much concerned about what I don't have, and I really don't have tomorrow yet. The truth is, I am always standing before nothingness, because I am nonexistent yet for the next minute. I'm not here yet. Time isn't there. The world isn't there. The world is here... Right now!"
May this period of the Omer be a time of awareness. Awareness of how special each moment truly is, and may this awareness open the gates for the miraculous to happen in your life.
In Parashat Shemini, chapter 11, verse 45, it is written: “Ki ani Hashem hama’aleh etchem me’eretz Mitzrayim”, “I am Hashem Who brings you up from the land of Egypt”. Rashi points out that in all verses that refer to God taking Israel out of Egypt, it is written “hotzeiti”, “I brought you out”, but here it is written “Who brings you up”. The question, obviously, is "why?" The narrative in that Parasha is about creatures that we cannot eat. Rashi explains the verse with a teaching from Rabbi Yishmael: “Had I (God) not brought Israel out of Egypt for any reason other than that they do not make themselves impure through creepy things, it would have been sufficient cause for them to have been redeemed, and abstaining from creepy things is an elevation for them. This is why the Torah uses the expression "brings up".
"Every time we rid ourselves from a negative emotion, character trait or habit, we are leaving behind some sort of enslavement and we experience freedom."
This month, as we observe Passover, we celebrate freedom from bondage as we again tell the story of how God took us out of the land of Egypt. I find it compelling that during this season, the Torah is whispering to us that God is doing much more than taking us out of Egypt. God is bringing us up, elevating us; and from this we understand that the ultimate goal of the exodus from Egypt is to elevate our souls. To this day, this concept still speaks to us. Every time we rid ourselves from a negative emotion, character trait or habit, we are leaving behind some sort of enslavement and we experience freedom. Negativity can be compared to slavery because it is usually attached to us, like a ball and chain. The moment we get rid of one negative aspect of our lives is so liberating, and our verse from the Torah applies perfectly: "I bring you up". Egypt is a symbol of constriction, limitation, and even narrow mindedness, just like negativity in our life. To shake off this negativity is so liberating, it allows us to grow, and our soul expands at the same time.
"The energy of that period allows us, if we do the work, to release negativity in our life."
The seven week period -known as the Omer- between the second Seder and the holiday of Shavuot is a particularly auspicious time for introspection work. The energy of that period allows us, if we do the work, to release negativity in our life. This is because the counting of the Omer is used Kabbalistically to rectify 49 emotional aspects in order to be ready and worthy to receive the Torah on the holiday of Shavuot. The counting of the Omer is a special time for spiritual refinement and elevation. It is a gift to us, we should use it!
This month, the biblical narrative is Bamidbar, "in the desert". I would like to share an experience that happened while we lived in the Southwest desert.
About eight years ago, my grandmother undertook the trip from Paris to El Paso, TX. She was 98 years old, with all her marbles, and perfectly aware that she was probably going to pass there.
Our house was on a mountain, and the view was an even higher mountain that changed colors throughout the day on one side, and a valley on the other side. It was majestic and breathtaking. A spiritually inclined person could easily feel a great sense of connection. It was so beautiful seeing my grandmother in love with this place. She spent her days meditating, doing yoga and praying outside, inspired by the powerful landscape, intensely connected with the Divine.
And so, one Friday morning, while I was preparing for Shabbat, my wife called me at the Shul to tell me to come home, as my grandmother was suddenly leaving us. What happened that afternoon could be categorized as an STE, a Spiritually Transformative Experience. You see, my wife, my aunt and I felt my grandmother's soul leave its body.
That morning, when I arrived home, we decided to make my grandmother comfortable in a lounge chair, facing the beautiful mountains that she grew to love so much. I held her in my arms and delicately installed her on the chair. At that moment, she gave me the most amazing present: a beautiful smile and a wink. Slowly, she closed her eyes. We thought she had died, but no. Her heart was as strong as it was generous. So we chanted Tehillim (Psalms) while I took her pulse regularly. Suddenly, we all felt a strong and warm wind that swooshed around us. We looked at each other knowingly. I took her pulse. Yes, she was gone.
The experience was spiritually transformative, as her soul lovingly embraced us before continuing its beautiful journey in the World of Truth. This experience confirmed what I already knew; that the soul, of course, lives on when liberated from the body.
At that moment, I had the feeling G-d let me peek at the Upper World. Why did G-d allow it? There might be a myriad of reasons, but ultimately, my grandmother -and G-d- gave us an STE, a Spiritually Transformative Experience. I might not know the reason, but I do know I was granted an opportunity to grow.
Ultimately, STE's come in various sizes. Some will be overwhelming, while others will be a soft whisper. And these experiences will take different shapes, mystical or not. But they all offer us a chance to evolve. And when we evolve, the world does as well.
In the desert, "Bamidbar", the Bnei Israel truly learned about the Divine, they cultivated their awareness and grew into a beautiful nation. This awareness has been handed down to us. May we all recognize Divine smiles, winks and glimpses whenever we are blessed with them, and may we all learn from them.