The Paradigm of Moses

If a person is to grow and mature spiritually, one must adopt and strengthen certain inner qualities, in order to facilitate that growth. Certain character traits and behavioral patterns are particularly important to the process, since they serve as the foundation for spiritual exploration and expression. The furthering and strengthening of these qualities are very central to the path of self-development. Certain human qualities are, in fact, so pivotal in establishing the groundwork for personal growth, that they deserve special attention and therefore, warrant close examination.

In this regard, it is difficult to overstate the spiritual importance of the quality of modesty. For modesty is humility. Humility is one of the central keys to spiritual growth and personal development. The Torah states, that Moses was one of the most humble human beings, that ever lived. This is neither a random comment nor an arbitrary statement. It is not meant as a simple description of Moses nor even a well-intentioned compliment. It is a summation of who Moses was, and why he was so important. It is in this one short, poignant verse that the character of Moses is fully summed up.

How enormously important those few words are! The Torah could have described the main aspects of Moses character in a number of ways. Moses was a great leader. He was courageous and determined. He faced Pharaoh down. He led the Jews to freedom.

Moses was also a man of great patience. He served as judge and military leader, guiding the people physically and spiritually the forty years of the desert wandering. Moses was a highly spiritual being. He spoke directly to God. It was he, who was chosen to ascend Mount Sinai and receive the Law from the Hand of God.

Yet, the Torah does not describe Moses as a most courageous individual. It does not refer to him as mighty or wise, nor as revered or holy. Though he was in reality all of those things, The Torah chooses to describe Moses, first and foremost, as being exceedingly humble. Why? Because, humility is the very basis for the type of achievements Moses was capable of. Moses never sought to be a spokesman for his people. Rather, he was embarrassed to speak in public.

He did not choose to be a leader, God asked him to assume the mantle of leadership. Moses did not seek to be an intercessor between God and the people. The people, in their fear, requested of him, that he take on that role. It was God, who approached and spoke to Moses. Not the other way around. That is what made Moses, so holy a soul.

He was not ego-centric or driven by a desire for recognition. Rather, he was modest and self effacing by nature. By being humble, Moses was completely open and receptive. Though he did not choose the tasks and assignments he was to undertake, he accepted them freely and fulfilled them completely. He did what needed to be done, because, on one hand, God asked him to and on the other, because the obvious need was there.

Moreover, Moses was able to fulfill all of these varied assignments, because he was open to receiving instructions from God. Being a lawgiver, a judge, an arbiter, a military leader and a prophet, Moses not only had to wear a number of different hats, but also to be well versed in a number of unrelated skills.

For one human being to handle this level of responsibility for a half a century would, normally, be beyond the scope of any human being. The degree of concentration and organization alone, required to carry out these many levels of obligation for even a short period of time is almost impossible to comprehend. To consolidate all his talents, and to coordinate his time and energy, to meet these multiple and varied demands required something other than determination, will power, desire or drive. None of those would have facilitated success at this level. They simply would have burned Moses out and put him in an early grave. Instead, Moses lived to be 120.

Moses’ success was due to his deep and abiding humility. Moses had no sense of his own self-importance. He had no driving ego, no agenda, and no grand view of himself. In his modesty, he felt that he was truly a servant. Moses fled the court of Pharaoh. He escaped the corridors of power, self-aggrandisement and recognition. Moses, instead, chose to live simply and quietly as a shepherd until God, personally, asked him to take on the responsibility of helping to extract the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.

What is interesting is, that by serving God and the people, Moses became master of himself. He came to full fruition as a person, because the focus of his activity in this life was not on himself and his own needs, but rather upon how he could be of service to God and to other people.

To be humble is to be open. It is to have no preconceived expectations about life or about one’s place and importance in the world. Modesty is the willingness to let go of the tendency of ego to seek to rule one’s life. If one allows ego-centrism to define the course of one’s life, one is not available to the higher forces of spirit. Subsequently, one is also not in a position to allow the flow of divine energy to permeate one’s life and one’s life experience.

We cannot hear the voice of God in our lives, if our ego is preventing us from hearing it. It is only through humility, through the simple openness of heart and mind, uncluttered by the false beliefs and unreasonable expectation levels created by egoism, that we enable our inner spirit to come through and take control over our lives. It is through modesty, that the channel is kept open for the flow of divine guidance and blessing.

Humility is not a surrender of self nor of ego. On the contrary, it is an affirmation of the soul, the spiritual core of all of us. Humility is the act of submission to God. It is the acknowledgment that God is the center of our lives, as well as at the core of the life of the universe.

We affirm our connection to God, when we allow our souls and the divine spark within us to take charge of the course of our lives. Both, submission to God and the emergence of our true spiritual nature, as the guiding force of our earthly lives, are accomplished by modesty and humility. When we are truly open, then we view our lives, continually, as blank tablets upon which the soul writes life’s scripts, guided by the Hand of God. That is the paradigm set down by Moses.

Greater than all of his massive accomplishments stands the example of his life, his approach to living. Moses’ way of life is a great key. It is a model we should all strive to attain and to adhere to. Indeed, a great legacy. It is the secret of being real.

Rabbi Fisdel

Coping With Darkness

With the coming of winter, we embrace not only the beginning of a new year, we are also faced with having to work through the season of darkness. During this season, days are still short and the nights are, determinedly long. The ground turns cold and vegetation is in stasis. There is no growth in nature, just extended darkness and cold rains.

There are seasons within our own lives when similar conditions prevail. Unexpected events, sudden change or misfortune, trauma or distress can affect us emotionally the same way. The loss of a job, the departure of a loved one, dashed hopes or broken dreams can send us into our own personal winters. That is part of the cycle of life.

For human beings, winter represents an end point. It represents the termination of an element or phase of our lives. There is a distinct finality to such moments, be it the conclusion of a relationship, be it the death of a loved one or be it the end of a personal era, manifested as a career change or a transition into middle age.

We humans, as sentient beings, have an option that neither the natural world nor the animal kingdom possesses. We have choice. We have the freedom and ability to alter our focus, to change the perspectives we have on our lives and our situation. We can perceive things differently, if we so choose to. An end can be mourned or it can be honored. The past can be pined for as an irretrievable loss or it can be cherished as valued experience. The decision is in our hands, exclusively.

During times of difficulty or pain, we can choose to sink into our own void and let the darkness overcome us. We can surrender to despondency, despair and melancholy. We can yield to anger, recrimination and aggression.

Surrendering to despair comes as a result of inaction. Outbursts of anger and hostility are reaction patterns to pain. Both approaches, one passive and one overt, lead to the same place, to a deepening of the darkness. Both stem from emotional investment in our own limited egos.

Winter, if properly understood, offers us a great opportunity. It is the season of regeneration, the season of rest. Darkness, in its truest sense, is not an absence of light nor is it the negation of light. It is the partner of light. Light is energy, growth and movement. It is joy, desire and achievement.

True darkness is the quietude of rejuvenation. It is the rebuilding process, by which the universe strengthens itself. It is the time, when the hidden forces of nature are busy regrouping. When there is darkness, life force is regaining it’s integrity, so that at the proper season it will reemerge and produce growth and revival.

Understanding this, we should look at the difficult periods of our lives in the exact same vein. When loss or disruption, misfortune or defeat affect our lives, we must embrace it. Such times are, in essence, an opportunity to close down what can no longer be, to relinquish what has already spent it’s energy or that which, simply, has finished running it’s course.

For spiritual, emotional and psychological growth to take place, we need to make room for it to happen. This involves a process of release. We have let go of what we no longer need. We have to relinquish that which we are still carrying within us, which may have been necessary and important at an earlier stage of our lives, but now has become either useless and burdensome to us or worse, detrimental.

This emptying process, though of great importance, produces a sense of loss and with loss comes grief. The aftermath of experiencing either a loss or a release is the process of grieving. It is, truly, necessary to grieve a loss. Grieving is essential to the process of letting go on all levels, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. To grieve is to empty oneself out. By so doing, one leaves the cup empty, so to speak, making room for endless, new possibility.

Once an individual empties out the old psychological constructs and disposes of the accompanying emotional contents, the way is open to internal regeneration and eventually, to the attainment of a new state of consciousness. There is a critical stage of transition between one’s past, completed experience and a new expression of one’s life. It is achieved by passing through the grief.

The stage beyond grief is that of neutrality, rest and peace. Our periods of darkness should be times of release, inner quiet and restoration. True darkness is the season of renewal. As such, we should accept it with open mind and embrace it with a tranquil heart. It is the gateway to spiritual evolution.

Periods of darkness, when understood properly, are the times of post-completion. After we have let go and released what we have finished with, in our life experience, there is a sacred time of peace. There is a period of great quiet when we become whole. During this sacred time, if we are using the darkness properly, we avail ourselves of the opportunity and the need to focus on the hidden resources deep within us. The season of darkness is the time to attune ourselves to the deep wells of spirit within and let the waters, there, be replenished by our connection to God.

The season of darkness is not a time of barrenness. It is not a time of death. The season of darkness is the time of restoration and regeneration. It is dark, not in the sense of the absence of light, but rather, that darkness is the manifestation of the hidden, the secret and the sacred. It is peace.

May God who establishes peace in the highest heavens, grant us the courage to forego what has past, to dwell securely in the quietude within and to embrace its potential for the future. And we say, Amen.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel

The Human Dichotomy: Good and Evil

The reality of Good and Evil expresses itself differently in Judaism, than in other religious traditions. Good and evil is not a strict duality in Jewish belief. Rather, they are seen as coming from the same basic source, God’s Will.

Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, thereby bringing them both into the world, by their actions. The act of assimilating the knowledge of good and evil produced its emergence in the world. In other words, good and evil was a potential that was brought into the world by man’s conscious decision. It was an act of will on mankind’s part. It did not have to be made manifest. In fact, God specifically had told the couple not to do so.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil stood at the heart of the garden of Eden. Therefore, it had a legitimate place within the structure of Creation. However, that was not meant for mankind to assimilate. God says so directly. He prohibits them from eating of the fruit of that tree. The Knowledge of Good and Evil, the full understanding of the polar principles that govern the functioning of the universe, was not meant for human beings to take upon themselves.

Once, having done so, the basic polarity of existence was fundamentally changed, as far as human experience is concerned.  Now, humanity was able to make subjective determinations. Everything would be seen through the focus of positive and negative, good and evil. Yet, much of this viewpoint is purely subjective. What is good for one person, may be evil for another. What is beneficial to one group of people, may be detrimental or devastating to another. What benefits one group, may be doing so at the expense of another.  When we make value judgements, we are overlaying connotations of good or bad on the basic duality of the world.

Everything in Creation is polarized into dualities. Living beings are either male or female. Space is polarized into left and right, forward and backward, up and down. Energy is the dualism of electricity and magnetism. Life takes place by movement within time and space. The basic duality of existence is inescapable.

So, what did Adam and Eve do when they ate of the Tree? They introduced subjective value judgment into the equation. Now, instead of seeing right and left or this and that as neutral and natural, they saw everything as good or bad. This added perception produces great distortion.  If one is looking at two apples, one fresh and one that is rotting, it is not necessarily true to assume that the former one is good and the latter apple is bad.

The rotting apple may fall to the ground and serve as badly needed fertilizer, which is good from nature’s standpoint. Whereas, there may too many apples on the tree, and the ripening one being considered, is draining off much needed resources from the other fruit. This prevents the apples on the tree from coming to full fruition. Hence, the whole crop of apples ultimately, will be ruined.

Goodness and Evil, good and bad are not always appropriate considerations. Much in life is actually neutral or a balanced admixture of positive and negative. Good or bad is merely a function of how something is being viewed.

Very little in nature is either good or bad per se. Rather, something becomes good or bad based upon how it is used. Enormous harm and tremendous evil have been done to countless people and nations over the millennia, in the name of what was thought to be the ultimate good.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil stood in the Garden of Eden to regulate the balance of the opposing forces, that constitute the very makeup of the world. That force of regulation was planted by God. The Tree was meant to serve Creation on a level of its own, beyond the pale of human comprehension and human thought. When Adam and Eve ate of the Tree, they took it upon themselves to decide, what in the world was good and what was evil. The making of such distinctions would inevitably derive strictly from their own narrow frame of reference. This was the sin of mankind. We set ourselves up as the ultimate judges of what is and what is not reality. Moreover, we continue to make such decisions, and we are doing so through the distorted lens of subjective value judgment.

By setting ourselves up as judges, we are preempting God, the true, eternal judge. Our distorted perceptions lead to inappropriate action, causing harm, damage and destruction on many levels. We are bringing evil into the world, through actions precipitated by confusion and misconception.

How do we escape this unending cycle of good and evil, progress and retrogression? The answer is implied in the Book of Job. At the end of the story, at the point where Job admits he cannot fathom evil and suffering, God forces the issue. God demands to know why Job or anyone else, for that matter, thinks they can know the mind and intent of God. The true roots of good and evil lie deep in the very fabric of Creation, in the Will of God. This is far beyond the scope of human comprehension. No human explanation will ever be adequate to even remotely approximate the true reality. Why does man persist in distorting the world and human experience by playing God and making subjective judgments and then casting them in terms of good and evil?
A return to Eden involves the surrender by humanity of this dualistic view of the universe, and the permanent release of judgmentalism. Mankind must move beyond the cycle of good and evil, that has dominated human experience from the beginning. We need to return to the original pattern of experience, symbolized by Eden. Mankind must allow itself to be guided by God directly, rather than by the limited insight of our own reason.

The question then, is how exactly is this achieved?  Before mankind was created, God judged all of Creation to be good. The universe is innately good, according to the Torah. No mention of evil is made at all, in the description of Creation.This suggests, that there is a universal Good that transcends both good and evil as we understand it. There is a transcendent Good that is at the core of all Creation. Good and evil are relative to each other. They are interdependent. Without one, the other ceases to exist. This relative good, that we usually experience then, is only a reflection of the transcendent Good that underlies Creation.

The dichotomy of good and evil that mankind brought into the world interferes with our ability to experience the true Good.  According to the Book of Deuteronomy, good and evil is really a set of choices that we are forced to make continually. Choose life and good or death and evil. Choose to serve God or choose to abandon God. Do not assume that understanding what God wants from us is hidden away somewhere or far beyond our reach. That is not the case. God’s Will is very near to us. It is within our hearts and souls.

This is what the Torah teaches us.  To reach the Good, we must pass through the dichotomy of good and evil. We must first strive for the good, listen to our hearts, study the Torah and work to serve God. We must remain firm in our convictions and resist the temptations of ego and misplaced emotion that lead to sin and destructive behavior. By working through the good and resisting the inclination to do evil, we move in the direction of connecting with the transcendent Good, the light of holiness and joy, that is beyond good and evil as we understand it.

The Transcendent Good stands alone. It is eternal. It is the underlying force in all Creation. This is the goodness, light and love that will one day rule all life on earth, when evil has passed away and the Kingdom of God is finally established. May our lives reflect that coming reality. May our daily existence be filled with a striving for the good, so that we each lay down a small part of the foundation of God’s everlasting kingdom, little by little, in our everyday life. If we do this, we become one with God and God’s Will.

Rabbi Fisdel