Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Power of Love

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeitzei

Time flies when you're having fun.

Or when you're in love, as Yaakov is with Rachel (Mizrachi on Bereshit 29:20).

The seven years he worked in order to marry her "seemed to him a few days because of his love for her."

So the next time you're in a tough situation and time seems to stand painfully still, try tapping into the great love in your heart and watch your reality shift.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Power of Inspiration

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeitzei

Have you ever received a burst of inspiration?

Did you feel that you could do anything?

This is the sense Yaakov experiences when he sees Rachel for the first time. His emotions are powerful enough to enable him to roll a heavy stone off the mouth of a well (Bereshit 29:10).

What large challenge lies in front of you now?

What can you look to for inspiration in order to overcome it?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ladder of Life

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeitzei

Where are you on the Ladder of Life?

Some of us prefer having our feet on the ground, others enjoy being more heavenbound.

Take a few moments to celebrate wherever you are on the ladder of life today.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Precious Stones

 by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeitzei

Yaakov goes to sleep with twelve stones around his head and wakes up with one.

The Midrash tells us that the stones quarrelled for the honored position as Yaakov's pillow.  The result? G-d unifies them. With this stone, Yaakov annoints a pillar to be a "House of G-d". (Bereshit 28:22)

Chassidut teaches that each of us is like a unique, multi-faceted precious stone.

But when we forget the beautiful gem that we are, we feel broken down into smaller, weaker parts: fear, despair, frustration, competition, anger....

The lesson here is to remember, or "re-member" who we are: a whole, unified creation that goes beyond the fragmented parts, infused with the image of the Creator.

How do we usually describe ourselves? "I am ... and .... and ....." Today, why not try being conscious awareness that I just am?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Baby Steps

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Toldot

Can you find an example where Esav starts to make headway in his personal growth?

He starts to assess the situation: Little brother gets blessing (Bereshit 28:6) Little brother goes to find wife so that he won't take Canaanite woman (ibid) -- like I did. Little brother obeys our parents, going to Paddan-aram (28:7).

Ahh! I get it! he thinks. The daughters of Canaan are evil in our father's eyes! (28:8)

So he marries a wife of Ishmael, Avraham's son.

It's almost there, but not quite. He hasn't divorced his Canaanite wives!

But that's okay.

We call this taking baby steps. It's a good start. 

What baby step have you taken that can you feel good about today?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Avoiding Embarrassment

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Toldot

Everyone knows about Rivkah's intuition, her foresight, and her arranging of events so that Yaakov receives the more favorable blessing from his father, rather than Esav. But we might imagine the following scenario happening right before Bereshit, chapter 27, verses 1-45...

"It can't be. It cannot possibly go to Esav. Ever since he married those Hittite girls, he's been a source of spiritual rebellion to us (Bereshit 26:34-5)."
"I know, Rivkaleh. What can we do? He doesn't deserve it, but I don't want to embarrass him."
"Wait a minute, Itzik -- I have an idea, listen to this..."

And so Yitzchak sends Esav out of the house, while Rivkah prepares Yaakov to receive the blessing. Now they have a story to report to Esav when he finds out what he's missed.

How else can we explain the events of these verses? Do we really think Yitzchak is confused enough to mix up his two sons? He may lack sight, but he's not senile....

Here's a thought. Esav is not capable of accepting the consequences for his actions. He just dives into one evil thing after the other. Knowing this, his parents perform all of this drama for the mitzvah of not embarrassing another person, which is akin to murder. What could Yitzchak possibly say to Esav? "Son, I've decided that I cannot, in good conscience, give you a favorable blessing..." That wouldn't go over very well. 

So Yitzchak and Rivkah together create an environment to avoid having to embarrass Esav -- again, akin to murder. Better to let him deal with his emotions on his own. The only drawback is that now he wants to kill his brother...

Can you think of a time when someone else received what you thought you deserved? Open to the possibility that you weren't ready to receive whatever it was. Realize that only Hashem knows the bigger picture. Only Hashem knows exactly what we need and when.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Birthright Stew

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Toldot

We tend to think that Esav's a real blockhead.

Sell your birthright for a bowl of lentils? Give up eternity for immediate gratification? We just can't believe it.

Here's a bizarre twist to the story: When Yaakov takes advantage of Esav's animalistic nature (Bereshit 25:31), he goes completely against his grandfather Avraham's previous example (Bereshit, 18:6-8) While Avraham made extraordinary efforts to feed his guests -- who weren't even human -- Yaakov makes a deal in a weak moment when it comes to feeding his own flesh and blood. 

Yaakov knows he is meant to carry on Avraham's legacy. Why does he have to pull a fast one on his brother? Surely that's not the Torah way. What's going on?

Think of Esav and Yaakov as two complementary sides of ourselves. Esav is the gross material self, while Yaakov represents the spiritual, divine aspect. Just as the notorious Birthright-Stew Deal is a necessary move in the eventual playing out of the Geula process, sometimes our physical self needs to be tricked by our spiritual side in order to balance our whole being.

What is your "animal soul" up to these days? How can your "divine soul" influence it in a subtle way, without it knowing, for the sake of your well-being?

Monday, November 21, 2011

What's Tugging at You?

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Toldot

Little baby Yaakov kicks Mama Rivkah's belly when she passes by a house of Torah study.
Its energy resonates with his own. It tugs at him so he wants to go in.  

Little baby Esav kicks Mama Rivkah's belly when she passes by a house of idol worship.
Its energy resonates with his own. It tugs at him so he wants to go in.  

What resonates with your energy? What places, people, activites, or ideas are you pulled towards? Which of these nourish you? Which of these steal your energy? 

With this new information, what will you allow yourself to be pulled towards next?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Exponential Praying

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Toldot

In this parsha, we see the first prayer circle in the Torah.

Actually it's a prayer diagonal. Yitzchak and Rivka are standing opposite each other, praying for children. (Rashi on Bereshit, 25:21) And the result isn't just one child -- it's two.

How powerful might our prayers be if we all prayed for each other?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Seeing Under the Surface

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Lavan has got his eyes on the gold.

When Eliezer comes bearing gifts for Yitzchak's future bride, Lavan seems to be more intrigued by the treasures than he is interested in the story behind them. He's consumed, thinking there will be more for the rest of the family (Rashi Bereshit 24:30).

How often are we enticed by what we see on the surface? How much do we miss of the deeper story?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Praying for Little Things

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Do you pray for the little things?

I've been told not to. I've been told to pray only for the important things -- the stuff that really matters.

But I disagree. I think G-d wants the little prayers, too.

Eliezer asks G-d to send him a sign. He asks for proof of Yitzchak's intended betrothed. She would be the one who offers water to him and to his camels (Bereshit 24:14).

But isn't that a wasted prayer? Isn't he praying for something that's considered common courtesy? Would the average person offer water to a guest and let his animals suffer from thirst? Probably not. So Eliezer's request seems to be prayer for "the little things".

When I'm waiting for a bus, I pray that it should come soon. Of course, the bus will eventually arrive. But my little prayer for the obvious connects me with my Creator and allows Him to be a Giver. And when the bus arrives, I don't see it as a fact of practical scheduling; I see it as G-d's answer to my prayer.

And I think He likes that.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Our Work is Child's Play

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Chayei Sarah

There's no turning back.

In our parsha, Eliezer receives instructions on finding a wife for Yitzchak. Under no circumstances will Avraham permit his son to return to the land of their ancestors.

It's so crucial that he states this condition twice (Bereshit 24:6,8).

Avraham does not want Yitzchak to fall into spiritual decline. Just as he was led into the promised land, so should his son be.

Know that when you transcend your own limitations, you give your children the ability to do the same.

What false belief about yourself can you let go of today, in order to let your child move ahead spiritually into new ground?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Act Your Age -- or Not

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Chayei Sarah

How old are you?

According to tradition, Sarah was as innocent from sin at one hundred as she was at twenty. And her attractiveness at age twenty was equivalent to her pure beauty as a seven-year-old. (Rashi, Bereshit 23:1)

So, how old are you? Well, that depends. Chronological age? That's based on the calendar. Biological age is the condition of your physical health in terms of the cellular processes. How you actually feel -- that's psychological age.

To further complicate things, how about the idea that, created in G-d's image, we are all ages at once -- a composite package of past, present, and future. A bundle of kinetic and potential energies. It's the idea of the "inner child" that is always inside of us, or the wise old soul that we feel are growing into with each life experience.

So, how old are you? And in the end, does it really matter?

Friday, November 11, 2011

No Fear

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeira

What is Avraham feeling the day he brings Yitzchak as an offering to G-d
 (Bereshit 22:2)?

Fear or courage? Hesitation or enthusiasm?

Here are some clues from the text: Avraham Avinu wakes up early in the morning, saddles his own donkey, splits the wood, stands up, and goes (22:3).

The secret to conquering fear is in the doing. Doing it now, doing it with enthusiasm, doing it as an expression of avodat Hashem.

Is there something you've been procrastinating? What practical steps can you take now to conquer your fear?

(Translation from the picture: Courage to say what I think, to do what my heart says, to ask for forgiveness, and to not be afraid. And don't forget that you don't need to have a lot of muscles! --Susana Tavares)

Comments are welcome. (Email viewers can click the title above to comment online.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tears of Victory

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeira

Hagar's son, Ishmael is dying of thirst. 

She leaves him at a distance and cries for her loss. (Bereshit 21:15-16) The commentators criticize her for this -- she should have stayed with Ishmael to comfort him.

But G-d hears the cry of the youth and takes care of Ishmael. He promises makes a great nation of him and produces a well of water. (Bereshit 21:17-19)

Are there parts of yourself that you need to cry over? Hold them close. Comfort them. But know that G-d needs you to move on and become great -- He wants to help you be the best that you can possibly be.

Your relationship with G-d is first and foremost based on G-d's belief in you. Based on this belief, He will sustain you and give you what you need in order to grow. Remember -- He first promised to make Ishmael great and only then quenched his thirst so that he could become that great nation.  

So go ahead and cry, and know that these will become your tears of victory.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Light in the Dark

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeira

If you're looking for drama -- this parsha has it all:

Gang rape (19:5), child abuse (19:8), mass destruction (19:24-5), human calcification (19:26), incest (19:33-36), abduction (20:2), national constipation (20:18), family separation (21:10), abandonment (21:16), and child sacrifice (22:2).

So many difficult situations to accept. Why throw them all into one parshah?

To answer this question, consider the light that shines through the darkness: the announcement of Avraham and Sarah's child (18:10), the birth of Yitzchak (21:2) and the birth of Rivkah (22:23). Amazing. Such immense light. The seeds of our nation.

In this world, good and evil must co-exist. As a child, I learned that "without the bad stuff, we wouldn't appreciate the good." Hard to accept, but true.

Consider your own life. Amazing. Such immense light. And know that everything that's ever happened to you until this point is your personal Torah, written by G-d Himself. The good with the bad. Hard to accept, but true.

Comments are welcome. (E-mail subscribers can click on the title to comment online.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Our Most Precious Guests

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeira

Ever notice how sometimes we treat strangers (and animals) better than our loved ones?

Lot is particularly good at it. He offers up his daughters to the Sodomite mob, rather than risk the well-being of his guests. (Bereshit 19:8)

Not the kind of behavior we'd expect from the man of the house.

The next time you catch yourself acting less than kindly to family members, try this trick: Pretend that they're guests. G-d's special guests. The ones that He has sent especially to you in this particular moment.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Make a Good Point

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeira

Lincoln-Douglas debating is child's play compared to Avraham's argument with G-d in our parsha. Persisting for almost ten whole verses (Bereshit, 18:23-32) he tries to dissuade Him from destroying the evil city of Sodom. Avraham insists that if righteous people currently inhabit Sodom, then it should be spared.

Let's imagine that Sodom represents any negative situation from your past. Not just anything, but the ugliest, ickiest, most horrific or embarrassing, guilt-ridden thought that may still inhabit your consciousness.

Believe it or not, in that memory lies a spark of positive energy. A redeeming factor: a good intention, a worthwhile cause, an innocent beginning. If anything, the "good point" in this memory is the fact that it brought you to where you are today in your life: the home and family you've created, your list of accomplishments, and your dreams, hopes and visions in potential, waiting for the right time to be manifested.

So rather than waiting for parts of your life to decay in the cellar of your consciousness, raise them up with the help of Avraham, who insists that a spark of righteousness lies within. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Top 3 Reasons Why Sarah Laughed

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeira


Mamre Plains -- Three men visited Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu in the scorching heat of the afternoon yesterday. Some neighbors claim that the men are, in fact, angels in the form of humans sent to deliver an important message to the patriachal couple. The visitors claim that Sarah will become the world's oldest first-time mother next year at the record age of 99; her husband will be a ripe one-hundred. The men remain anonymous.

When asked about her reaction to the news, Ms. Imeinu commented, "I just had to laugh."

Why does Sarah laugh? There are two major opinions on this. Some say she doubted Hashem's ability to perform a miracle. Others, such as the Kotzker, suggest that her laughter was a joyful one.

I'd like to offer a third view. Let's suspend the idea of laughter as an aspect of capability; whether she was capable of bearing a child, or whether Hashem was capable of performing a miracle.

Let's instead focus on the prayers around the issue. Have you ever wished for something, then gave up on it, only to see it come true later on? Years of Sarah's praying for a child were perhaps followed by decades in which those prayers were humbly abandoned. Maybe the laughter is in response to those long-forgotten prayers finally being answered. It's a feeling that G-d acknowledges her. It's that moment of  "ah-hah, now I understand why I had to go through all of that suffering" -- a moment of connection between her original prayers and her acceptance of G-d's will for the years that she did not have children.

Try this exercise: Think of something you've prayed for that you're still waiting to see become a reality. Practice accepting that until now, it has been G-d's will to not bring that desire yet into the world. Understand that if you feel this yearning deep in your soul, it's G-d's desire too. Have emunah that G-d will manifest this desire in the right time.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hey, Hey, Whaddya Say?

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Lech Lecha

In G-d's covenant, Avraham and Sarah receive the blessing that "multitudes of nations" (17:4) and "kings of peoples" (17:16) will arise from them. 

This interaction imbues them with tremendous creative potential .

At the same time, they receive the letter hey in their names. An exhalation, a giving back of the original breath that G-d breathes into us (Bereshit 2:7).

When we exhale, it can take the form of speech, song, or tefilah. It completes the cycle of giving between Hashem and ourselves.
How will you express your own heys today?  How will this awareness inspire your own creativity?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Do it Right: Have Emunah

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Lech Lecha

Move over, Yuri Gagarin. The first man in outer space was actually our patriarch, Avraham. That's according to the midrash on Bereshit 15:5.

Avraham is a prolific astrologer. He understands from the constellantions that he can't have children. In a dramatic display, G-d takes him "outside" above the stars to show him how abundant his descendents will be.

Here we learn a powerful lesson about emunah -- faith in G-d. "And he trusted (he'emin) in G-d, and He considered it as righteousness (tzedakah). The first time a root appears in the Torah is its essence. As far as I can tell, this is the debut appearance of both roots. The fact that they both appear together in the same verse strongly suggests an interconnection.

Tzedekah is based on the root for justice, because it's what's right to do. We don't need to travel far to know that trusting G-d is the right thing to do. But even Avraham has to be taken out of his own perspective to receive a new perception of himself.

How do you currently view youself? From a bird's eye view, and with faith in G-d's highest wishes for you, how could you perceive yourself in a new light today?

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Power of One

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Lech Lecha

Have you ever felt that you could do anything?

It's a sense that comes from the core of our being, when we're connecting not to our ego, but to the limitless of our Creator.

Avraham possesses this quality. It's a characteristic that enables him to strike down his enemy in order to free the captive prisoner, Lot, along with all of his possessions and people.

One man rallying against the enemy.

What powers lie in full potential within each of us? And what are we waiting for? 

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

This Land Was Made for You and Me

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Lech Lecha

Lot and Avraham just can't coexist. They have too much stuff.

The land can't even handle it (Bereshit 13:6).

Which of your possessions, comforts,  habits or memories would you be willing to give up today in order to dwell peacefully within your environment?

Comments are welcome. (If you are following by email, click the title to comment online.)