Saturday, November 29, 2008

Staying afloat

Dear JLI Student,

Congratulations- we have come a long way! In theory, we’ve learned pretty much everything we need to know to live as a beinoni. We started with an overview of our internal workings and then proceeded to outlines the three possible spiritual compositions of a Jew. In our last lesson, we mastered the two main techniques through which we affect deep, internal change.

Yet there is often a gap between knowing how to achieve a goal, and being motivated enough to do it. What happens when life gets us down? Daily life is replete with challenges, obstacles and difficulties, which can derail even the most dedicated spiritual seeker. And even the most refined individual can sometimes suffer from spiritual burnout.

How can we create the joyful, upbeat attitude that is the critical requisite for personal growth? In this next lesson, we will discuss ways of radically re-framing our perspective on life so that we can avoid the pitfalls of negativity, apathy, and depression.

I look forward to seeing you next week and continuing our study of the Book of Tanya.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Breaking News! Prayers needed...

At this moment my colleague Rabbi Gabi Holtzberg and his wife, the Chabad emissaries in Mumbai, along with other Israeli Tourists, are hostages in their Chabad House in the horrific terrorist attacks on the city. Their infant son has been released with the nanny, however reports indicate that the Rabbi and his wife are "unconscious, but alive". Hundreds of commandos surround the house and it seems that a full-scale assault is imminent.

I'm BEGGING of you: while everything must be done - and IS being done - by the forces to rescue the hostages, we know that it is within the hands of each of us to storm the Heavens and pray to G-d that this situation and all other terrible current circumstances in Mumbai are resolved peacefully immediately.

Please say a Prayer, perhaps Psalm 20: http://www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?aid=6320&jewish=Chapter-20.htm&lang=en and give Tzedaka for the Chabad Rabbi and his family (Holtzberg), the Israeli tourists and all the good people of Mumbai, INDIA.

Terrorists have attacked tourist sites in Bombay including the Chabad house and are seeking people with British and American passports.

http://www.chabad.org/news/article_cdo/aid/772546/jewish/Update-in-Mumbai.htm


Please have in mind Gavriel Noach Ben Freida Bluma and Rivkah Bas Yehudis (Rabbi & Rebbitzin Holtzberg.) The Israeli foreign ministry spoke to him a few hours ago but has not heard from him since and there is an attack on his street.

Don't stop with a prayer; please take it one step further and remember that a small act of "light" in one part of the world can dispel darkness wherever it may be. Do a mitzvah:

a) Give charity in their merit
b) Men: Put on Tefillin today; if you already did, see to it that someone
who hasn't yet, should.
c) Women: Resolve to light candles tomorrow evening; if you already do, see to it that someone who hasn't yet, should.

May G-d bring peace to our pained and darkened world!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Comments?

"Last week I saw a man who had not made a mistake in 4,000 years. He was a mummy in the British Museum." - H.L. Wayland

"There is nothing perfect in this world. Our job is not to hunt down perfection and live within it. It is to take whatever broken pieces we have found and sew them together as best we can."

In light of the above, I encourage you to post comments on how you believe Chabads JLI sessions can improve.

Video supplement to lesson 2 and 3

"Kabbala Toons" provides some insight into this discord between the mind and the heart. In the cartoon, the heart is named "Feival" and he is portrayed much like a pet - one must "walk" him, take care of him and work on appropriate techniques of communication. In general daily life, he behaves, however, an occasional stimulus can cause a major disruption, and this is what we must learn to control and prevent. Here are the links and hopefully they will launch some "diablog":^)

Walking your Heart: Heart and mind are sometimes in communion, well synchronized. Sometimes heart goes wild. Mind provides focus and calm and heart provides warmth and joy. Can't just scream at heart, must work on appropriate communication.
http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/kabbala_toons/default_cdo/aid/632214/jewish/Walking-Your-Heart.htm

Feival goes Wacko: Heart has a mind, and in a controlled environment, the mind goes to sleep allowing the higher mind to take control. When certain stimuli hit, that mind wakes up and heart can go nuts. By staying calm, we can effect true and lasting change and control those urges when they are at their peak- we can allow heart to be mindful even when it's awake.
http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/kabbala_toons/default_cdo/aid/638472/jewish/Feivel-Goes-Wacko.ht

Enjoy!

Let's recap

In our first lesson of the SOUL MAPS course we explored the duality that exists in man. We learned about the two opposing souls that vie for control over the body, each with its own distinct drives and personalities, each desiring to find expression in the body’s garments of thought, speech and action.

In our second lesson we picked up our first tool in managing this internal conflict. We were introduced to the three personalities of the tsadik, rasha and beinoni, and learned that the model of perfection for the common man is the beinoni.

The Tanya thus presents a revolutionary perspective on self-mastery, as one does not need to change his or her insides (a goal only attainable by the tsadik) rather man is given the ability to overcome his or her animalistic and selfish instincts and impulses, and can thus achieve perfection in his or her behavior. While we may not be able to change our insides, each of us does have the innate ability to control the expression of our internal faculties, to control our outsides.

Coming into our third lesson, we discovered that impulse control alone is not sustainable for a prolonged period of time. We can experience a beinoni minute intermittently, but simply “white-knuckling it” creates a very stressful lifestyle where one becomes physically and emotionally drained due to the constant struggle and internal stress in fighting one’s impulses and desires. Thus, we need to find some additional strategies which will enable us to develop emotional congruity, where our “insides” can catch up with our “outsides” – where we can develop feelings that raise the comfort level of our behavior, so our quest for perfection in external expression is matched with an internal appreciation and excitement to make those improvements.

To that end, Rabbi Shne’ur Zalman introduced two strategies for us to use: The long way and the short way.

The long way is simple. It consists of meditation. One devotes specific times to think deeply about G-d, about His purpose in creating this world, the vastness of His creation and the personal interest and concern that He has for each individual creation. Meditating about these and other ideas and fundamentals of Judaism over a long period of time will effect a change in one’s emotional thermostat; it will generate feelings of love toward G-d, and provide greater inspiration and motivation to overcome any selfish impulses and desires, allowing one to comfortably improve one’s behavior, speech and even thought.

This strategy affects change over a long period of time, the results are cumulative, thus it called “the long way.”

There is yet another tool, one that can work instantly. This strategy, called the short way, is one that is not based on the absorption of information or in one’s immersion in a new set of ideas, rather it is something ingrained in the nature of the soul. It is not something that one must incorporate into his life, rather it is already there, part and parcel of man’s spiritual identity. The challenge is to tap into that latent force and allow it to come to the fore.

This strategy is based upon three kabbalistic concepts that Rabbi Shne’ur Zalman explains in a span of eight chapters in the Tanya. They are the process of creation, the purpose of creation, and the power of a mitzvah.

Chassidism teaches that G-d did not just create the world during the six days of creation and then disengage from the creative process. Rather, the world exists because at every moment G-d continuously creates and sustains the universe. The entire creation thus is seen not as an independent existence, but as an expression and extension of G-d Himself. The world does not truly exist in the truest sense, but is actually G-dliness “enclothed in physical matter.”

This is the deeper understanding of the statement that “G-d is One” – meaning, that G-d is the only one. There is no true fragmentation or disunity in our universe. Creation does not truly enjoy an independent existence (though it sure feels that way) but is here because G-d is enabling it to exist.

This is why Judaism does not see idolatry only as one who denies that G-d exists, but even one who accepts G-d but claims that there are other independent entities; even one who believes in G-d but asserts that he or she also exists, is denying G-d’s unity and is considered as having worshipped idols.

G-d’s purpose in creation was that man navigate through the opaque veil of Divine concealment to discover the Truth of His existence. Our mission in life is to “find G-d” by becoming sensitive to the greater truth of His existence (to recognize the fallacy of man’s seeming independent existence) and to transcend our instincts of self and ego and focus on serving Him.

Thus, a mitzvah, which is G-d’s truest will and desire, is much more than a “good deed”. A mitzvah is a divine act that allows man to become a vehicle for G-d’s expression. A mitzvah enables man to bond with G-d, to becomes His partner in perfecting and illuminating this world. Conversely, when one transgresses a negative mitzvah, that causes a separation from G-d (albeit temporarily).

Rabbi Shne’ur Zalman explains that the short way to achieve emotional congruity is to tap into the hidden love that each of us has deep inside; to touch the deepest part of our soul which desires never to be separated from the true source of all existence. We call this the “spiritual survival instinct,” the ability for the soul to exert a power surge of spiritual adrenaline that when threatened – will do anything to retain its connection with G-d.

This is why throughout our history, many simple and unlearned Jews surprisingly gave their lives when their Jewish identity was threatened – even though they may have not felt the urgency to observe G-d’s code of conduct during other times in their life. This is because the power surge of hidden love only exerts itself when it’s very survival is threatened. A mother who doesn’t realize that a product is harmful will not do anything extraordinary to prevent their child from coming in contact with the danger. However, when she does realize that there is a life-and-death danger, her maternal adrenaline will kick in and she will do extraordinary things to care for her child.

The short way is the ability to look at every choice that we have, large or small, major or minor, as a choice between life and death, between connecting with G-d or separating ourselves from Him, each an equal threat to the spiritual survival of our soul. (Just like in a marriage, every betrayal, even a minor one, is a rejection and denial of one’s absolute and complete love and commitment to their spouse.)

Thus, each of us has the power to tap into that spiritual power surge and feel a jolt of emotional energy that will help us make the right decision – after all we are not asked to give up our lives, only a little bit of comfort.

This week, when you practice your “beinoni-minute,” try to incorporate these two strategies and see if it makes it easier to practice impulse control. See if you feel more inclined to make the G-dly choice.

I look forward to hearing about your experiences next week!

The long way vs the short way

Dear JLI Student,

Our last lesson, in many ways, comprises the heart of the Book of Tanya. We began our study by setting the scene—outlining the internal makeup of the Jew, labeling and discussing the nature of each part as well as discussing the various spiritual possibilities. One cannot legitimately allow one’s self to “act out” until such a time that the opportunity has arisen to master the art of self-betterment, so the first step in our journey to self-betterment involved basic impulse control, as outlined in Lesson 2. Still, it is impossible to constantly battle to restrain ourselves on the “outside,” if we do not balance it with working to better ourselves “on the inside” so that the strain on our psyche does not overwhelm our efforts to achieve self-control.


This past lesson, our third, introduced us to Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s two methods towards achieving the rank of beinoni- learning to manage the battle within. Let’s review these two methods:

“The Long Way” is a long and arduous program of serious study. When we exert true effort and grapple with subject matter, the knowledge gained becomes a part of us internally and it affects our emotions and actions. In class, we discussed the example of a person who educates himself or herself on the local sports team. The more you know about the rules and the players, the more your emotional investment in the outcome of the game will grow. “The Long Way” creates deep-seated, lasting change, though it takes time and effort before one sees and benefits from its effect.

The other method is “The Short Way.” This method does not create new emotions, but simply allows us to take advantage of a dormant emotion that is already present. The best example is the mother who experiences the rush of adrenaline and is able to lift the car that is pinning down her baby. Though the strength obviously existed previously within this woman, it is only available to her in circumstance where her motherly instinct to save her child is tapped. The counterpart in the sports example cited above would be tapping into an your local community pride and and celebrating a hometown victory because everyone else in town in exceited even though you know nothing about the game.


The advantage of this “quick fix” is exactly that—it’s instant effect. However this surge of inspiration is bound to wane quickly as well. The mother will no longer be able to lift cars the next day, and the budding sports fan will probably lose interest in the game as the excitement of the victory decreases in the city.


In terms of service of G-d, by tapping into our natural aversion of being cut off from G-d, and recognizing that any transgression creates a state of absolute distance and separation, we are able to quickly garner the resources to resist temptation. But this surge of energy is likely to quickly dissipate, and unless we bolster this “short way” with contemplation and study, we run the risk of finding it difficult to continually arouse the indignation and revulsion that is our soul’s natural reaction to evil.


Both methods are necessary, and they are best used in congruity—“The Long Way” to create deep, internal change over time, and “The Short Way” to infuse this lengthy process with the necessary bouts of instant inspiration in order to maintain dedication and resolve.

I look forward to seeing you next week when we further discuss the applications of these methods as well as gather some tools for preemptive problem solving.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Coming up...lasting change

We have now established the dichotomy between the two souls, the animal soul and the G-dly soul, and their active battle within—and we have outlined three spiritual classifications, depending both on the internal struggle and its external manifestation. Yet the only method of influencing our behavior (the souls’ expression) that we have discussed thus far is simple impulse control. And we all know that this is easier said than done!

In our next lesson, we will continue our discussion of achieving a personal standard for perfection that is both reachable and reasonable. At the same time, we will expand our repertoire of tools towards this goal. Moving beyond impulse control, we will explore two methods of influencing and modifying both the internal battle and the external behavior. Each one is a necessary step towards true change, yet each one fails to achieve lasting results without the other. In our next lesson, we will discover the advantages and disadvantages of each method as well as the circumstances under which to apply each one.

I look forward to seeing you next week and continuing our study of the Book of Tanya.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Souls in Conflict

Thank you David and Aida for doing such a phenomenal job at playing the roles of the G-dly Soul and the Animal Soul. You had us mesmerized...

Here's the audio clip:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hot coffee

Many thanks to Mr. Jack Kovnatz for taking the initiative to donate a new hot water urn for our use. There is nothing like a hot cup of coffee...

It is much appreciated by the entire Chabad JLI community.

Now what?

We have thus far outlined the internal makeup of the Jew: the fundamental dichotomy between the two souls, the animal soul and the G-dly soul, each with its own objectives and modus operandi. We made the distinction between the “powers” of the soul and “garments.” The innate nature of each soul can only express itself when one allows it the “garments” of thought, speech and action. Our second lesson drew further distinctions between three types of people, the righteous, the wicked and those classified as intermediary.

At this stage of the game, it is key to remember that Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi stresses that the rank of righteous is beyond the reach of most of us. Tanya’s “program” is for human beings, not saints, and another name for the book is “The Book of the Intermediary,” as it is this category that we must strive to reach. Additionally, the Tanya affirms that this is the category that we are all capable of reaching. Yet the behavior of the intermediary still reaches the level of perfection, as the only the G-dly soul is given the garments of expression.

The basic tool for becoming a beinoni is simple impulse control: training ourselves to make the right decisions and avoid indulging in vice. Yet this tactic alone is far from enough, or we would have all kicked our bad habits long ago. After a while, we often simply get tired of the effort required to maintain control. How can we make self-discipline a more satisfying pursuit so that we will be motivated to stay with the program? This is the question we will be addressing in our next lesson.

I look forward to seeing you in class next week.

Sincerely,

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Our Spirtual Journey step 2

Dear JLI Student,

We began our study of Tanya by developing the vocabulary for discussing our inner realities. We spoke about the G-dly soul and the animal soul, as well as the distinction between the “powers” of the soul and its “garments.”

In this lesson, we consider how we might define a personal standard for perfection that is both reachable and reasonable. We use the constructs defined in the first lesson to understand three major spiritual classifications, and set goals for our personal spiritual growth, and define the primary method of attaining our objectives.


I look forward to seeing you next week and continuing our study of the Book of Tanya.


Sincerely,

Your local JLI instructor

Kabbalah of the Hebrew Letters

"A Pinteleh Yid"
A short video on the Kabbalah of the Hebrew Letters...

The letter "YUD":

http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/kabbala_toons/default_cdo/aid/687251/jewish/The-Yud.htm

The letter "VUV:
http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/kabbala_toons/default_cdo/aid/700534/jewish/The-Vav.htm

And finally the "ALEPH":
http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/kabbala_toons/default_cdo/aid/705822/jewish/The-Aleph.htm

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

To sum up Lesson 1...

We've begun our exploration of the Tanya by outlining the key ideas of the animal soul and the G-dly soul within every Jew. They are like “two kings vying for the same kingdom,” and only one can rule at any given time.

We looked at the difference between what you want and who you are—your internal essence and external expression. And we identified the “garments” of the soul: thought, speech and action.

It is said that, “knowing is half the battle.” While we have not yet garnered any tools or tactics for affecting the internal struggle, we have laid the foundation. It is only now that we have mapped the structure of our internal workings that we can meaningfully discuss how to go about causing deep, internal change, refining our very essence.

We have described the unique design of this course, which examines Tanya “as a program and not as a book.” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi composed the Tanya as a substitute for his personal counsel, and our six classes parallel six personal audiences with the rabbi. Now that we have laid the conceptual framework for our journey by identifying the source of our competing instincts, in our next lesson, we can begin to discuss how it is possible to reconcile these battling urges so that we experience internal harmony.

Thank you again for joining, and I look forward to seeing you again next week,

Rabbi Shmuly Altein

Chabad Lubavitch goes Facebook

Ever felt out of touch? Disconnected?

Join our Facebook community at
www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=24606747667 where you'll always be in the loop.

Some background...

Thought I'd give you a little background:

There was a man called the Alter Rebbe. He was a remarkable scholar. He studied the works of our Torah, Prophets, Megillas, Mishna and Talmud until he knew them by heart. He wrote an absolutely comprehensive code of Jewish law covering all aspects of modern Jewish law beginning at the remarkably young age of 25.

Then he became an expert in philosophical and kabbalistic works of the Zohar, Maimonides, the Kuzari, Rabbi Isaac Luria-the Arizal and many others. He was a personal student of the greatest Torah greats of his generation. And then, THEN, he took all that knowledge and he became a Rebbe, a loving Torah guide and mentor to teach students how to live. He helped so many people. The more he helped, the more came. More and more came until he just didn’t have enough time to meet with all of them personally.

But through the years of Rabbi S”Z’s study he hadn’t merely amassed vast Torah knowledge, he had internalized that knowledge and used it to transform his inner self. He had become a Tzadik. He had refined himself to a point of purity that is as pure as G-d allows a human being to become. That is what a Tzadik is. And G-d had given him such a soul that he knew his students and their struggles from the inside out. He knew their essence and therefore automatically he understood their external struggles.

He collected the guidance that he had shared with his students, and remember, that guidance was based on thousands of years of Torah, legal and mystical teachings. It was based on the writings and teachings of the greatest scholars, philosophers and mystics of all time. He collected all that wisdom and advice and he organized it into a program. He organized it into a program to understand yourself and improve yourself. He put that program into a book called the Tanya. In that book he gave us a treasure. In that book he gave us himself.

Ready to explore this sacred work? Let's begin...

Rabbi Shmuly Altein
your local JLI instructor

Video presentation of Chabad's JLI

Video link

Here's a short video about our course Soul Maps.

Please follow this link to give it a shot - http://drop.io/thedovid/asset/soul-maps-2 ...and then let me know what you think!


Enjoy!

Media coverage

There was an article recently published in the Canadian Jewish News about the new Chabad JLI chapter in Winnipeg - http://www.cjnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=15636&Itemid=86

Monday, November 10, 2008

Welcome aboard

Dear JLI Student,

Often, we find ourselves making the same resolutions year after year. Whether we are trying to lose weight or to eliminate our credit card debt, it seems that over time, our resolve weakens and we find ourselves in the same unproductive patterns over and over again.

What is it that we really want? The healthier weight or the delicious chocolate chip cookies? The debt reduction or the new fur coat? Why are we so often conflicted? And why does change feel so difficult?

Our upcoming fall course, Soul Maps, will grapple with these questions. Together, we will explore the nature of our motivation and drives and attempt to understand our internal makeup.

But to discuss this subject intelligently, we need the vocabulary and language to be able to think about these important issues. Freud gave us the language to talk about the psyche with terms like id, ego, and superego. We will need to use different language to speak meaningfully about the soul.

It is my great pleasure to warmly welcome you to Soul Maps. I look forward to our weekly sessions over the next six weeks, and I hope that our journey proves meaningful and enlightening for us all.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Shmuly Altein