Recovery Blog

A Hallmark Card to G‑d

September 28, 2008

I love Hallmark cards! Aren't those cards so romantic? Aren't the poems so poignant! I want to nominate the Hallmark card as the greatest invention of the 20th century. No need to be creative; no need to waste time putting my feelings and emotions down on paper. I can just go to any store and get a professionally-written card for $2.99! Bingo! I am an instant winner.

I hate Hallmark cards! Aren't those cards so unromantic? Aren't the poems so fake? I can't believe that someone would actually send me such a card, and think that I would appreciate the superficial commercial greeting.

Sometimes when I read from my Machzor on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I can't help feeling like I'm reading from an impersonal card. The words are beautiful and poetic, but they were written professionally so many centuries ago. Our Holy Sages spent days and nights composing the Holy Prayers, they carry the cries and the hopes of our nation; my heart is sometimes numb and I can't feel that holy energy in me. The lyrics are powerful, they contain worlds of meaning and profundity, but so not personal — so not me.

Sure I'll use the Hallmark card; it’s part of our pop-culture. But I'm always sure to add a personal note. Sometimes the note is longer that the poem, and sometimes I just sign my name. I just want the recipient to know that I'm willing to invest more than just a few pennies in our relationship.

This year, I will add my personal prayer to G‑d along with the traditional reading of the Machzor. As I stand before G‑d and choose Him once again to be my G‑d, I will make sure to personalize my card.

Tailor Made Challenges

September 15, 2008

At one of the open AA meetings I attended, I heard a recovering alcoholic say: “G‑d got me to it; He will get me through it.”

Classic AA. Simple and powerful.

Here is the more complex version:

Let's consider a horse trainer who is teaching a horse to jump over obstacles. The horse might think that the trainer is out there to stop him from running; in reality, however, the obstacle is designed to awaken within the horse the power to jump. Without the obstacle the horse will never find out that he has the capacity to overcome it. When the horse finally gets it and learns how to jump, the trainer might give him a carrot. However, by next morning he has already designed a higher obstacle for the horse to overcome. Now the horse is thinking, AHA! Now I really know that he is trying to get me. But soon enough, the horse learns to overcome that obstacle, too.

Let's see... can we achieve what horses do? Do we think G‑d is at least as organized and inventive as a horse trainer? Do we think that we have hidden spiritual energy that is awakened only when we are faced with a challenge? Can we imagine that anyone else besides G‑d is designing our training program? Can we trust Him and know that the obstacles are not put there to block us, but to encourage us to jump?

Knowing all that, it only makes sense to accept the situation that I face today as having been tailor-made for me today. And my response to that challenge should be to turn to G‑d to help me with finding within myself the power to jump. It is easier than you think.

Are challenges real? Is the obstacle really there? In the case of the horse trainer, the obstacles are obviously real. That is the only way to get the horse to jump. G‑d has it better. He can give us the illusion that we have an obstacle in front of us, and achieve the same result: G‑d gets us to jump over it.

Our Kabbalah teachers tell us that, indeed, all obstacles to spiritual growth are only illusions; for there is nothing in G‑d's world that can really hold a person back from getting closer to G‑d. It just doesn't make sense. The illusion disappears as soon as we have the willingness to jump... As soon as I make the decision that I will ignore the obstacle, and continue to grow spiritually despite the problems, that in itself is “the jump.” The obstacle has already served its purpose, so it will cease to exist in G‑d's world.

So, indeed, it's that easy! All I have to do is to make the decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of G‑d, and all the obstacles will just disappear...


September 8, 2008

The Jewish month of Elul is when we gear up for the High Holidays. During this season, G‑d is closer to us than ever. Like a king leaving his palace to accept the petitions of the common folks, G‑d is especially tuned in during Elul.

G‑d is listening, G‑d is close, but where am I? Where do I stand with G‑d?

I can begin to improve my relationship with G‑d by examining my relationships with my fellow man, by conducting a "searching and fearless moral inventory." Thank G‑d for the 4th step!

So I sit down with a pen and a supply of paper and I begin writing… Whom do I resent? Whom do I fear? To whom do I owe amends? Maybe I can only come up with a few names. But that's great! G‑d loves the effort that I am making.

I am not trying to be harsh with myself, just to be honest so I can improve. Not to blame, but to come clean. Not to find fault, but simply to recognize which of my own character defects might be preventing me from connecting to others, to G‑d, and to myself. After I own my imperfections, I can let them go.

This is not about people on the outside; it is about looking into myself - inside my own head and heart. Maybe I have habits like being selfish or inconsiderate of others. At some time in my past, these habits may have been ways of protecting myself. But now they form my E.G.O.: Edge G‑d Out. And now, during Elul, I want to edge Him back in my consciousness and my life.

It's human to be human. G‑d made us human, with imperfections, so we would own them and work on them. That is how we invite Him back in.

Hold on to your list and smile: The year is already different.

When I Started Praying...

September 1, 2008

“Rabbi, when did you start praying?” It was a simple question, asked by a simple person who works a simple program. But I don't know how to be simple, my training is in the complex. Give me something simple to explain and I will mix it up as best as I can. So here is how I answered:

I can say that I started praying (at least) three times in my life, and that each instance evolved from the previous experience. The three types of prayer I would like to share about are Technical Prayer, Intellectual Prayer, and Emotional Prayer.

Technical Prayer is when I read the words printed in my prayer book, or recite the blessings that I memorized. I don't understand what I'm saying, and I don't even have a purpose to my prayer. I just say it. I say it because I was told to. I say it because my parents say it. I say it because I want to eat, and I don't put food in my mouth until I pray. That is what I call Technical Prayer. As unspiritual as it sounds, it serves a very important purpose. The purpose is humility and surrender. It's not about me. It can't be about me, because I don't understand it, and because I don't think about what it really says. As childish as it sounds, it’s as pure as it sounds. Our great sages, who achieved the highest levels of prayer, wished they could revert back to praying like a child. I have been trained to do so since I was a small child. I said blessings and prayers before I knew how to talk...

Then I grew up. Technical Prayer was not sufficient anymore; I had to upgrade. I upgraded to Intellectual Prayer. I was around 13 years old, and I had just started studying Jewish Mysticism, also known as Chassidus. I bought a special prayer book, with translations, and annotations. I started to study the literal meaning of prayer and the intricacies of its order. Intellectually, I started to understand what I was saying, and why I was saying it. When I prayed, I paid more attention to the words that came out of my mouth. I made sure that they matched the thoughts in my head. Prayer now began to have meaning.

Again, I found that Intellectual Prayer is also not enough. The intellectual meaning of prayer is a great tool for spiritual growth. But as far as a relationship with G‑d is concerned, it is similar to what someone else with comparable intellectual capacities can achieve. Where is my personal connection with G‑d? That is where I need Emotional Prayer.

When I pray emotionally, the words that I say and their meaning take a back seat to what I feel. I use the written words in my book to express the emotions etched in my heart. I read with my lips, and I cry from my soul. I find the part in me that I'm willing to give to G‑d today, and I ask G‑d to accept it from me. I invite G‑d to be part of who I am; I ask him to help me be all I can be.

Praying emotionally has evolved from many important events in my life. One of them is my discovery of the Twelve Steps, and the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Prayer in the program is always a matter of life and death. It doesn't get any more personal than that. It doesn't get any more emotional than that.

Contact your local Recovery Rabbi and join a Jewish Recovery Community:
Boca Raton, FL
Rabbi Meir Kessler
Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Mendel Cohen
Milwaukee, WI
Rabbi Shais Taub
Montreal, Canada
Rabbi Benyamin Bresinger
New York, NY
Rabbi Yaakov Bankahalter
Reading, PA
Rabbi Yosef Lipsker
West Bloomfield, MI
Rabbi Yisrael Pinson
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