Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Teshuba and Jiminy the cricket

Our conscience is an integral part of the makeup of our Neshama (human soul). Like Pinocchio's cricket, Jiminy, its mission is to warn us whenever we are about to do something wrong. Conscience, moral awareness, is the most effective mental mechanism which protect us from bad behavior. For instance: If we are about to say something negative about someone else (lashon haRa) ideally, our conscience will scream from within and demand us to stop: 'Don't do it! This is very wrong!' .

But, what happens when we don't listen to the first alert-call of our conscienceand we still do it? How many times our conscience will keep warning us?
As a rule, our conscience would shout very loudly the first time or two. But then, if we keep doing the wrong thing, the conscience's voice becomes weaker and lower. To the point that, if we persist, our conscience turns virtually mute.
Maimonides describes very vividly this passive moral-state as 'the lethargy of our conscience'.

The Torah's cure for the sleeping conscience is the Shofar. The Shofar is the alarm-clock of our consciences. The Shofar has a shocking positive effect on us.Its loud voice represents and helps us to retrieve the original loud voice of our dormant consciences.
In the words of Maimonides (3:4) the Shofar of Rosh haShana carries a strong message :
'Wake up you sleepy ones from your lethargy, and you who slumber, wake up! Inspect your deeds, repent and remember your Creator...Look at your souls. Improve your ways and actions, and abandon your evil paths and bad thoughts'

Click here to read:
"Palestine May Win a Vote, But Won't Be a State" by Jeffrey Goldberg.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Understanding Rosh haShana

You are a scientist. Your mission is to find the cure to Alzheimer disease. A powerful and wealthy INVESTOR is ready to spend 100,00 dollars in your wisdom. He gives you the money, one year at a time. The agreement is that in twelve months, He will meet with you again to reexamine His investment. He will not expect you to find the cure in one year. And He is willing to keep investing in you. To reinvest, however, He wants to make sure that you stick to His plan. And if you made mistakes (you probably will) he wants to know that you are capable to learn from them. You should identify your own flaws and ideally to articulate them our in front of Him. He knows that if you clearly acknowledge your mistakes, you will probably avoid making them again. And precisely those mistakes, have the potential to get you closer to find the cure for Alzheimer. On the contrary, if you deny your mistakes, and you neglect to look back and detect where did you fail, you will probably make those mistakes again. You are a questionable investment...

God is the INVESTOR. He invested in us. He gave us our lives. Expecting that we will make good use of the resources that He generously granted us . Every year, in Rosh haShana, we meet with our INVESTOR to submit our annual report, knowing that the money for the next term (life), is not automatically guaranteed. First, we have to show that we have followed (or tried to follow!) the Investor's plan. Second, that we have not wasted his investment doing nothing, and third that we are capable of identifying our mistakes and learn from them.

In Rosh haShana, we have to persuade God that it is worth it for HIM to reinvest again in us, in our lives.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Teshuba and Chutzpa

The rabbis considered 'shame' (busha) as one of the three phylogenetic components of the Jewish moral makeup. Together with the practice of benevolence (gemilut chasadim) and compassion (rachmanut). They went as far as to say that whoever does not posses the trait of shame, could be presumed that his ancestors did not stand at Mt. Sinai (an euphemism, to say that he might not be ethnically Jewish).

Besides seeing shame as a natural Jewish trait --in complete contradiction with the alleged Jewish 'chuptza'-- the rabbis explain that 'shame' is a prerequisite for a perfect Teshuba (repentance)

Maimonides writes (1:1) , "When a man or a woman commits a sin... they shall
confess their sin which they have done... by saying, `O Lord, I have sinned,
transgressed and rebelled before You, and have done such- and-such, and I am
ashamed by my actions and will never do it again'.

The rabbis of the Talmud especially praised the feeling of shame during the process of Teshuba.


Because, unlike guilt, which is a more private feeling, 'shame', consist in the uncomfortable sensation of facing our own flaws in front of others.

The main impediment to follow God's will is that God is invisible. It is extremely challenging to realize His constant presence. Therefore, we are not easily ashamed of doing something wrong in front of Him.

Conversely, if we are capable of feeling embarrassed while confessing our
transgressions to God, it means that we have achieved a very high level of Emuna: the state of awareness of God's presence.

A sincere Teshuba occurs when we mentally position ourselves in front of God, (lifne haShem titharu) and we feel ashamed, as if we were confessing our misdeeds in front of another person.