Sunday, July 17, 2011

High on Life !


David was not his usual self. The past few months of financial setbacks have gotten to him. Life seemed to have lost its spark. The magic of his past was difficult to recapture. No longer was he able to easily visit his favorite restaurants, frequent his vacation spots, and give his wife and children their joys. Every major purchasing decision was like wading through molasses, as he had to compare prices and time payments like never before.

Feeling in the dumps one evening, he called his Rabbi for comfort. "Please come by in an hour and join me for dinner", offered his Rabbi.

"Of course!", replied David excited to be invited.

The Rabbi meanwhile made some special Moroccan fish. He lined a baking pan with cilantro and hot peppers. Then he laid out Nile perch over the bed of cilantro and peppers. Finally, he covered the fish with another layer of cilantro and peppers. Then he placed the pan in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes. Just as his fish was ready, David was knocking on his door.

David and the Rabbi sat down to dine. On the Rabbi's instructions, David was given a dish with a few flakes of fish mixed into a heaping mound of cilantro and peppers. The Rabbi was served a fillet of perch sprinkled with a few flakes of cilantro and peppers. The arrangement seemed odd to David, but, he patiently held his tongue. He even enjoyed his first few bites, but, then lost interest, as the dish was not satisfying his hunger.

Meanwhile, as the Rabbi was heartily enjoying his dish, he motioned to David to please continue eating. David shrugged to politely indicate that he lost interest. "Why aren't you eating?", questioned the Rabbi.

"My plate is too heavy with condiment and too light with fish", admitted David.

"Ah", rejoined the Rabbi. "That's your problem! You are seeking condiments of life, instead of life itself!"

"What do you mean?” David responded in shock.

The Rabbi explained, "Happiness is interwoven into the fabric of life itself. It just comes along with the sensation of life. The two are inseparable, like wetness and water. Once  the sensation of life is your main dish, a sprinkling of life condiments can work their magic ~ enhancing life's joys.  However, though condiments alone may taste interesting for a few bites, they don't supply real satisfaction. So first get yourself high on life and only then will condiments, like financial prosperity, carry any meaning."

"But, I was enjoying my life for many years, before my finances plummeted.", countered David.

"Yes, that's true.", assured the Rabbi. "You certainly were enjoying life then. You just forgot what it was you enjoyed!  You think the pleasures came from your luxuries, when really they were produced by the sensation of life itself. Some people who recall a delicate meal in a very fine restaurant months later, seem to remember the sizzling tastes of amazing condiments and forget the foods they accented. If these patrons walked out empty bellied, they would have considered their visit worthless. So too, your dominant memory from back then, is focused on condiments. That was just the sprinkling over the amazing sensation of being alive. You can easily reclaim what really filled you with such joy. Happiness is just waiting for you to open the door."

With that lesson, David returned home. He began focusing his attention on enjoying the sensation of life. He began each new day with a meditation, sensitizing himself to the beautiful flow of life coursing right through him. He stopped obsessing over his financial woes. Whatever life scenario naturally streamed by his way, flowing down river of life, became the condiment of the moment. He was just taking in one day at a time, always thoroughly relishing his main dish with an ever changing variety of condiments, uniquely crafted for him from the "Table Above".


Afterthought: This story was inspired by the advice I recently received from the Kalover Rebbe.

                       O   *   O  *   O  *   O  *   O  *  O  *  O

Friday, July 15, 2011

Universal Mysticism

Understanding the Creator's Oneness (to the extent humanly possible) carries implications which logically force a reformulation of how we understand our very own existence. This newly reformulated understanding can be used to design a universal mysticism, which openly invites all humans to participate. Biblically speaking, the Creator desires all humans to relate to His Oneness. So a mysticism that centers on understanding His Oneness can become a temple for all people from varied of backgrounds and beliefs to meet, study, pray, meditate and share.

Before explaining how an attempt to understanding the Creator's Oneness lends itself to rethinking all existence along mystical terms, a brief overview of the Creator's Oneness will help us guide into the topic.

The Creator is "One", but, not in a mathematical sense. People commonly conceptualize "one" numerically. Mathematical concepts, being "creation based", are too limited to be applied to the Creator. Also, every oneness people refer to is "composite", meaning composed of parts. Being composed of parts, such oneness declares, "I may look to you like I'm one. Really I'm two, three, four or more."

Containing such an untruth dulls any composite oneness ~ rendering it too imperfect to apply to the ultimate truth and perfection, the Creator Himself. 

Examples of composite oneness are all around us. Anything in creation which we consider as being one is really a composite of parts. For the sake of convenience, let's consider how one finger is composite. One finger is composed of cells. One cell is composed of molecules. One molecule is composed of atoms. One atom is composed of subatomic particles. One subatomic particle is composed of a "beginning, middle and end". Each "beginning, middle and end" has its own "beginning, middle and end".  Even if what's subatomic is nothing more than amorphous smears of energy, they still contain some version of "beginning, middle and end". No one would refer to a finger as a truly singular entity, except to conveniently ease human communication, when it contains such a world of varied composition, .

This contrasts with the Creator's Oneness which is so inherently pure, flawless and perfect that it contains no parts, no version of multiplicity whatsoever, no "beginning, middle and end". Such divisions are finite and He's the very opposite, truly Infinite!  It's interesting how His Infinity logically extends from the idea of His true Oneness and vice versa, His Oneness logically extends from the notion of His Infinity; Demonstrating that they're complimentary ideas ~ both pointing in the same direction.

Being One and Infinite, He's all of existence or more accurately, the only existence. If there's a space anywhere in reality devoid of His Oneness and Infinity, then He can no longer truly be called, "One or Infinite",  as His Being stops somewhere, recasting Him a composite being shackled by finite constraints. Since He's One and Infinite in the most perfect possible sense, obviously this is not case. 

We see before our very eyes so much multiplicity. How does this barrage of multiplicity fit consistently with the presence of a Being Who is the only existence, as "only" excludes all else? In an oversimple sense, this would expecting to place a pebble in the exact same place occupied by a huge hulking mountain. Sorry, the mountain is in the way. Similarly, how is there room for any second entity in the exact same reality occupied by the Infinite Being?

Attempting to answer this question can become the basis for universal mysticism. The closer we come to answering this question, the closer we come to understanding the Creator's Oneness (to the extent humanly possible).  It's a lot like Einstein's discovery of the constancy of the speed of light. This discovery forced him to reformulate his understanding of time and space, leading him to develop the theories of relativity and time dilation. So too, the constancy of the Creator's Oneness (and all implied) requires us to reformulate our understanding of everything finite. This reformulated understanding leads to deeper understanding of the Oneness and finite existence,  opening our minds and hearts to mystical insight. 
Through the years, I've seen many question whether studying standard Jewish mysticism, known as Kabbalah, is for everyone. My stance on this issue is beyond the scope of this essay, especially since it's more complicated than a simple yes or no. However, what I am outlining here is a new mystical approach which should be free from such questioning and should be made available for everyone because it deals directly with the Creator's Oneness ~ which really is for everyone. The more a person delves into trying to relate to the Oneness, the more s/he enhances his/her observance of a Biblical commandment given to all humans.

There are a number of great rabbinic works which can serve as central hubs to begin formulating this understanding. Among them are "Duties of the Heart" - the Gate of Unity by Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pequda, "An Explanation of the Ten Sefirot" (currently, only available in Hebrew) by Rabbi Azriel of Gerona, "The Gate of Unity and Faith" by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, and "The Wellspring of Moses" (currently, only available in Hebrew) by Rabbi Moshe Schatz. Ideas can be culled from these works in order to reach and teach higher levels of Monotheism. Indeed, if done correctly this can turn into a life long study, as every inch of reality is rediscovered in the light of it's relationship to the Oneness.

Are you ready for the journey?


Monday, July 11, 2011

Naked Heart ... a mushy prayer for prayer ...


Dearest Sweet Divine Parent,

It's this too narrow sliver of time devoted to communing with You daily that forces me to prioritize what I communicate and does not allow me to flow as I naturally could. The heart can't be a slave to the clock. The shackles of time stifle much of what could have emerged, if only the session with You in communion were truly left open-ended or at least potentially open for a couple of hours ~ so there would be ample time for the depths of my heart to overflow beyond the normative span of our hour-long session.

It's amazing how I yearn for this naked "heart to heart" with You each and every day. You tenderly invite me to undress my heart before Your pleasure filled eyes. However, undressing takes a while and flows in accordance with it's own rhythms. Often the session ends before I've shown You everything, before I've entrusted Your feasting eyes with my every vulnerability. The music stopped and I'm left still mostly dressed.

Oh, I know that You so easily see my nakedness behind the clothes. Yet, it's somehow different when I bare naked before You. The voluntary unraveling of emotional cloth has a beauty all of her own. Please help me give You the pleasure of a complete unraveling before Your eyes.

First, I'll remove a bit of cloth here and then a bit of cloth there. It will be sensually inconsistent.  Yet, eventually all cloth will drape the floor like an adornment and You will see a full naked heart yearning and thirsting for Your tender words. You will be filled with pleasure over how much of the heart unraveled her fabrics for the very first time, trusting in nobody else's tenderness or soft touch ~ only Your's alone!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Question of Space

The Jewish sages teach that the Creator is space for the entire creation. In other words, the whole creation, spiritual and physical, is inside the Creator.  There’s nothing outside the Creator, lest it infringe on His infinity, by implying some outer border. 

I was once discussing this concept with someone who questioned, “Doesn’t all this talk of the creation being inside and not outside the Creator somehow ascribe a notion of space to the Creator; Isn’t He’s supposed to be beyond space?”

I was dazzled by the powerful depth of the question.  However, at the time I had no real answer. So, for more than a decade I simply accepted what my ancient sages taught on faith. Then the other day an answer dawned on me (though I wonder whether it would have satisfied the original questioner).

It seems likely to me that the sages spoke only from the perspective of creations, like us. From the Creator’s perspective, He’s the One and only reality. In the midst of such seamless Oneness, there’s nothing besides the Creator Himself.  So the question does not even begin, as there’s only Him.  There’s no other being to be inside of Him.   

Yet, from the perspective of those who dwell within the illusion of separation, the question of how separate identities are placed in relation to each other first begins. It’s this particular perspective which the sages were probably addressing.


A Good Friend


A good friend is someone whom you can rely on to remind you of whom you are when you yourself have forgotten.

The King's Crown

Have you ever wondered why a king about to fall asleep places his crown on a humble wooden post instead of offering it a dignified spot on a minister’s head? 

It’s because unlike a wooden post, a minister might bloat with self importance.   

Those with the humility of a wooden post, might be surprised to discover the real King's crown resting on their heads.

(A Chassidic teaching)

Monday, July 4, 2011

“Something to Consider ...”


Tonight, in the midst of crackling fireworks celebrating this great Nation’s birthday and in its birthplace Philadelphia, I give over this essay as a gift to the Nation and by extension to the world. For me tonight carries additional significance as many of my coreligionists mark the anniversary of the passing of a very saintly Rabbi, who was to my knowledge the only Rabbinical figure awarded the congressional medal of honor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, may his memory be for blessing. May what I write help of the people who form both the larger and immediate context of which I am a part of. Accordingly, there is no copyright on this essay. Please freely share it and publish it in hopes that the right people who are in the position to do something about this suggestion will receive it and will have the opportunity to consider its message.


As the divide grows between success on Wall Street and on the American Main Street, the world economy has suffered from tremendous setbacks over the past few years. Wall Street can prosper, while Main Street suffers. The clear financial pathways which for years had marked the trickle down from Wall Street investment to Main Street employment is fading. Today, laborsaving technologies have ensured that fewer jobs are opened by Wall Street investments and those which are often end up in foreign countries where labor is cheaper. As a result, one of the most difficult developments during our times is the loss of available jobs. 

Prior to this recession, capitalistic economies largely relied on standard market forces, which were considered reliable pillars of economic growth, to fuel job growth. This wisdom was culled from Adam Smith’s classic, “The Wealth of Nations”, where he used the term "invisible hand" as a catch-all phrase for intangible market forces, whose effects he was keenly aware of.

Truthfully, even Adam Smith's admitted that his "invisible hand" had at least one very visible driving force, namely, the "profit motive". However, what was largely glossed over in both the recent and distant past was the reliability of this “profit motive” to provide the whole Nation with the jobs and services leading to even the basics of a quality life, which include amenities such as food, shelter, health care, education, protection, sanitation, transportation, etc.

The past few years have proven that the profit motive is a fickle ally at best in the enterprise of providing jobs and was ("surprisingly") discovered to be "only in it for the money"! I once heard a story that might only be anecdotal. However, it carries valuable insight as a symbol of the realities we are facing today. 

President Obama met with some business leaders and appealed to them to produce jobs. They responded, "Mr. President that's not the way it works. You are placing the cart before the horse, you got it backwards. First come along the financial incentive to seduce businesses into growth and development. Then as a final step the jobs follow."

Finding Americans jobs is President Obama's number one challenge. Its might be easier to win his wars overseas than to win jobs for Americans. With answers like what he heard at that meeting, it sounds like the average American's basic quality of life has to wait, in shackles, for the enough greed (uhmmm...I mean "profit motive") to finally do its work.  Does it seem fair to have hundreds of millions of people, who are willing to work, suffer because the economy is powered by an unreliable fuel source?

Upon examining this economic "fuel source" which dignified circles call the "profit motive" and other circles more to the point label "greed", it basically comes down to "selfishness". It sounds humorously ridiculous to have expected a whole nation all this time to be cared for by selfishness. Imagine expecting a thoroughly selfish person to perform reliably in a nurturing role, like be a mother. Somehow, the two images of "thoroughly selfish" and "nurturing mother" don't superimpose on each other too smoothly. They seem to resist each other like two magnets brought together at the wrong ends. So how were we silly enough all this time to expect this unlikely combination of caring for a nation while placing it in the care of the selfish to work?

Well, rather than answering this rhetorical question and ruminating uselessly over the past, I'd rather focus on an idea which might make a difference in the future. I admit that I am not an economist or a business expert and actually this idea dawned on me in what some would consider a deeply religious moment. However, I would feel remiss if I did not at least put it out there and shared it in a way that the experts can access it in order to assess whether it has true value and possibly run with it to bring back some jobs to Main Street. The idea I have in mind is what I would call, "hybrid businesses".

I got the idea for the name from "hybrid cars", which are cars essentially designed to run on two fuel sources neither of which is ideal on its own. Electricity is cheaper than gasoline, but, until rather recently not powerful enough to allow a car to reach high speeds. However, gasoline also has a weakness. It became very expensive.  By wedding the two fuel sources each visit to the gas pump becomes less expensive while also providing enough power to achieve highway speeds. The vehicle owner enjoys the best of both fuels.

Similarly, the idea of "hybrid businesses" also works on two (economic) fuel sources, each of which carries a weakness, but, taken together they can cover each other’s vulnerabilities. What I am unveiling is a brand new business structure, which partners the United States government and the private sector – be they individuals, partnerships or corporations. The private sector’s profit motive is a weakness, as it selfishly tramples over the larger societal implications of its business decisions. The government has a weakness, as it lacks business visionaries who have true enterprising appetite. However, together they can form a legal business structure which moves with both vision and societal concern.

Federal, State and city governments can all participate in this model. This is different than socialism where the government runs certain select mega-businesses on its own. Here there's private sector participation as well, which encourages visionaries to step to the plate and rewards private participation by retaining some measure of profit motive.

While maintaining the current capitalistic economic structure, which despite the recession still provides some employment, I am proposing the government adds on “hybrid businesses” as another possible way for businesses to legally structure themselves. So, besides having a market swimming with corporations, partnerships, private enterprises, not for profits, government services and independent contractors, we will also have "hybrid businesses" among these market swimmers.

How would a hybrid business work? I am sure that there are many ways of designing and structuring a partnership between government and private entities. However, just for the ease of description here is one many possible examples. A private business seeking help with its growth and development will apply for government partnership. If the business meets certain criteria, the government will agree partner with them. The government can bring to the table a range of resources like expertise, contacts, ability to buy in bulk, cheaper medical insurance for employees, lower taxes, office space, start up capital, cheaper legal services, etc. In return for this vast menu of government “goodies”, the business will required to make certain concessions, such having a certain percentage of its employees United States citizens and/or residents.  Also, submitting any future decision to terminate an employee relationship to the government for review and approval. This way layoffs and firings cannot just happen in the midst of a boss riding upon a whim of greed, but, will require a more protracted objective process, with checks and balances in place. The idea is to extend a safety net over people's livelihoods and spare them from the horrors of uncontrolled job loss - which can literally ruin people's lives in a single swift stroke.

If this approach favoring national or local labor seems unfaithful to the notion of a free market economy, please bear in mind that the government is not dictating how the free market economy of the Nation as a whole should run. Wall Street remains Wall Street. Private enterprise remains private, with it's entire standard package of accepted privileges fully in place. The government is merely dictating the negotiating terms under which it will conduct business - just like any other business does.  So if the government chooses terms that lead to heightened job availablity and security for an intended workforce, it's just behaving in accordance with the freedoms of a free market economy. 

Besides the prospect of heightened job availablity and security for the intended workforce, the hybrid system will also likely offer other benefits as well to all parties involved: employees, government, businesses and society as a whole. Here are some benefits that are easily noticeable.

The entire society benefits as hybrids create new positions within their businesses. Also, the government infrastructure, partnering with the hybrids, will create new positions on their end as well. These new private sector and government jobs will translate into new employment opportunities which haven’t previously existed. More and more people will be able to join the ranks of the Nation’s employed.

Besides solving part of society’s problem of job creation, hybrids can also benefit the government in another way, by creating a new revenue stream. Until now taxes and government bonds were the government’s main sources of revenue. The nation today is asking, “How will we be able to find the funds to climb out of our present state of debt, which has risen with the advent of the government bailouts?”

The answer might be, "By having a brand new revenue stream."

 A new revenue stream can be put to use in a large variety of ways, like towards resurrecting abandoned programs, expanding current programs and creating new programs. All these efforts need funding and a brand new revenue stream flowing into government coffers certainly goes a long way towards unlocking these possibilities – leading to a more robust economy.

Employees can benefit greatly as the hybrid system achieves integrated employee information sharing on a national level. This will help employees easily transfer from job to job without needing a huge job search and interview process. Presumably, employees will over time develop a government database profile, which can be more objective than resumes'. This pool of employee records can be matched against a pool of job vacancies, allowing for smoother transitions between jobs. The network easing such transfers will spare people from suffering an exhaustive job search process, typical in today’s private sector. Legitimate reasons for seeking a new job can be varied. Some reasons can include relocation to another locale, desiring a fresh work environment, a hybrid has bankrupted, an employee acquired new skills, etc.

Depending on how the government wants to layout its range of incentives and services in order to lure new businesses into considering a hybrid structure, there will also be significant benefits to the hybrids themselves. These benefits can include tax incentives, access to cheaper wholesale prices (as part of the government's bulk buying), access to special technologies, seasoned business advice, access to capital or low interest loans, cheaper quality medical insurance, low cost or free legal advice and services, and computer services, etc. The government can even create a mega-accounting department and IT department, either low cost or free, to add to its list of hybrid services.

Though there might be a concern about whether a government agencies' performance can keep pace with the private sector, I would suggest that they can. Firstly, it's clear that when the government truly wants to act efficiently it does. Just consider the following: the careful precision planning of military operations, access to technologies beyond private sector reach, the IRS’s abilities to catch tax evaders and how congress functions. None of these scenarios is fraught with the inefficiencies of a state welfare office, which actually at times might be slow, bureaucratically inefficient by unwritten government design in order to discourage people from using such services. By hiring truly qualified individuals and offering them the correct incentive package, it's possible for the government to coax highly efficient work out of its own employees. Secondly, in this case the government is also a business partner and has a vested interest in being businesslike on its own initiative.

 Author's personal comment: Those who know me know that it's not my style to write about the economy. You can check out my blog and you will see that this is not my typical subject matter. This particular idea dawned on me at a very special spiritual moment seemingly out of nowhere. When I reviewed the situation with a leading Rabbinical figure in the Lubavitch community, he advised me to cast the idea into an article in a way that it might come to the attention of the right people. So please spread it around to raise public awareness. This idea probably can be used by almost any government. Let's help our fellow human beings climb out of poverty.