I love Frumma Gottleib, Torah teacher with Chabad and SoulSculptors.com. Here is her video teaching about sanctifying time, which she calls "How to Make Time: Jewish Time Management."
She begins with Rosh Chodesh, part of the first commandment God gave to the Israelites prior to their exodus from Egypt. This is where Jewish time management began.
As Jews, our responsibility is to respect time and to respect ourselves by paying attention to the importance our own time. Frumma says, "G-d created time and we can create time, When something is important we don't say, 'I'm sorry, I have no time,' we make time."
Making time for the important things is what makes us G-dly. We rarely see it this way of course, and that's what makes Frumma's words so precious to me. My Creator makes time and I, too, am charged with the responsibility to make time. Rushing around and trying to do too many things at once is not respectful to G-d or to me. Or to others.
Frumma reminds me that my responsibility is to be a co-creator with G-d in this matter of making time, not a slave to harried, multi-tasking craziness. This is truly a mind shift for me on the topic of sanctifying time.
The commandment to love our God, as Torah specifies in Deuteronomy 6:5 "And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might," is easier said than done. Even though it's the core of the Shema, the foundational declaration of a Jew, it's always been controversial.
Most of us don't want to be commanded to love anybody, including God. We want the precious, deep feeling we call love to arise naturally within us. We want to love with genuine, spontaneous emotion or not have the obligation to love at all. This goes for loving other humans, too. We want the opportunity to choose to love them or not.
Religious leaders and teachers tell us to love God anyway, to love other humans anyway, no matter how we may feel in a particular moment or as a lifestyle. Since I'm not a religious leader or teacher, I don't offer the same advice.
I ask God for the ability to love instead. If I don't feel love naturally, I pray for it, including the ability to love God. It might seem strange to ask God for the ability to love God, but it's been effective for me. And, as a surprising bonus, praying for the ability to love God has given me a bit more patience and capacity to love other human beings. That's truly a blessing I didn't anticipate. Shabbat Shalom!
This funny ah-ha moment turned out to be very instructive to me. I need mental pictures to learn, and this question created a great picture in my mind. Thinking about it since that day, I began to wonder if the space we allocate to gratitude is the same space available for blessings. Meaning, it's not our emptiness but the quantity and quality of our gratitude that gives us the ability to receive. More contemplation on this topic to follow!
Choosing to live "soul first," is a consious choice. It can be costly in this world of people living "body first." Choosing to consider and (hopefully) prioritize my eternal, invisible soul puts me in a miniscule minority in every local and family social situation.
The way I understand the Bible, this is what we're supposed to do, or at least experiment with doing it whenever we remember. The fact that most of the people living in my part of the United States think that talking out loud to God is a sign of mental illness will not stop me. It cannot impair my intention to grow in soul-first living, or to continue to share with anyone who is also choosing to experiment with soul-first living.
For me, the first step is to gain soul-first understanding, possibly my primary task in this life. This week's Parsha Bo is about redemption, so that's why I'm contemplating redemption from automatic body-first thinking and acting. Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz says, "Parsha Bo is about how each of us can cope with our own Egypt, any situation in our lives which is strangling us or holding us back."
Clean, empty containers bring me a lot of pleasure. Especially empty glass jars, lined up on my kitchen shelves, waiting to be filled with freshly-prepared sauce or salad dressing. Thinking about my words of prayer as precious little teacups, much more delicate yet serviceable containers, also brings me pleasure.
Every word of prayer is a container, ready and waiting for me to receive from God. The expression of my heart and soul is an invitation and a signal that I am seated at the dining table awaiting.
God is not my waiter or server, of course. I am the servant in our relationship, but the picture of my willingness to receive is what I'm describing. It is a decent, respectful, civilized attitude of expectation that The Almighty God knows I am present and willing to receive.
We know that a judge and jury find a pre-mediatated crime to be far more serious than an accidental crime. The contemplation in preparation of a criminal act deepens its significance, and it becomes a part of a person's character.
Premeditated prayer works like that, only in a good way! Thinking about praying, planning for it, looking forward to it before the prayer occurs. The contemplation in preparation for prayer deepens the significance of our prayers and makes them part of our character.
Year after year, going through the cycle of Torah reading, I see more of myself in the antics of the characters populating famous Bible stories. And, year after year, I endeavor to go a little bit deeper and learn a little bit more about myself from reading and praying about the weekly Torah portion, especially as regards my current life challenges.
Reading Torah is a spiritual practice unto itself, but seeing myself in Torah makes that practice much more personal. Praying for personal insights on issues that are "up" for me as read the weekly Parsha makes Torah interactive, interesting and even exciting. I like that.
This week's Parsha Vaeira includes God instructing Moshe to tell Pharoah, "Let My people leave and let them worship me in the desert." Exodus 7:16 (The Living Torah)
These words give me pause to think. First, It wasn't simply, "Let My people go," as we often remember the incident. It includes God's purpose for the Jews' redemption from slavery, which is worship. And it includes the place where Jews will worship - in the desert.
I am exercising my right to worship my God on my own, right where I live, which is a Jewish desert. The land is not a desert, but the spiritual landscape is devoid of Jews. It's not a desert of plant growth, but certainly of Jewish growth. That's a plain fact here in far north Texas.
What a great example of seeing my current life challenges in the weekly Torah portion! Shabbat Shalom!
Talking to God about my concerns is 'way more productive than talking to most human beings. The reality is, most people cannot filter out their own self-interest while listening to others, except professionals trained to listen. Talking to God has a genuine focus on my own self-interest from God's vantage point. That's what I ask for in prayer and what I often get as a result. That puts my thoughts, feelings, plans and purposes in the best light possible for me... The light of God!
Listening to podcasts about Parsha Shemot this week I am letting this reality sink in deeply. Adversity has been a big part of my personal growth. I'm not saying, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger," not exactly. Because Torah stories about overcoming adversity are not really about people becoming stronger, but instead, they are about God becoming stronger, more welcome and involved in people's lives. That's the strength I desire to cultivate from adversity - acknowledging and welcoming God's plans and purposes for me in this life, having faith and confidence in my ability to overcome adversity through my connection to God.
Over the years I wrote blog posts and copy for others, I followed and studied with successful copywriters. They have to know how people think in order to write copy that motivates sales. John Carlton certainly knows how people think, and he shared these words in an email today, "Remember who you are and what you've survived... and WHY you're here in the first place. You have a purpose. It will sometimes shimmer just out of easy reach... and it will sometimes flash in your face, like a flashbulb." Oh, how I LOVE those words of truth! I bring who I am and what I've survived into every prayer, everyday.
Some powerful words from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat inspired my thinking about being there for others who are struggling. She wrote, "God's Presence is with those who are ill, whether they are aware of it or not. When we visit those who are sick, we enter into the divine Presence. The sickbed is a sacred space." What a counterintuitive thought. It's lofty yet practical, and most of us have plenty of opportunities to practice it every week - trusting that God is there for the struggling person, no matter what.
The idea of prayer as conception is new to me lately. I had to outgrow the idea of prayer as incantation or affirmation of my goals, which was a time-consuming process that continues today. I am the person who is speaking out in prayer to God, but I am not really the one in charge. God is in charge, just as God is in charge of all conception, gestation and birth. Surrendering the conception, gestation and birth of the answers to my prayers is not easy because it feels like giving up my own children. I am a pathway for my prayers, but I don't own them.
Crying out in desperation and begging for help may not seem like a worthy lifeline, but it is truly the most genuine. It's my heart-felt, emotional, personal prayers that solidly connect Heaven and Earth through me. My vulnerability is my strength in prayer. It's the opposite of the stoic strength, the lack of emotion so popular and prevalent in the world. Rabbi Tzvi Freeman says about the book of Genesis, "When it all began, Heaven was here on Earth." While I am here on Earth I want to make the most of my opportunity to bring Heaven here again.
Thinking of each breath as a prayer connection is a very comforting idea. I've been experimenting with it lately, using a video teaching by Sarah Yehudit Schneider called A Meditation From The Code of Jewish Law. Hearing the subtle sound of each breath in my mind is a practical way to connect to God in the midst of activity, not just the rare quiet times set aside for meditation.