“Getting Things in Order” – My thoughts on this weeks middah.

organize

Generally, I am an organized person. I’m not sure how many people daydream of becoming a professional organizer or read Don Aslett’s book, “How To Have A 48-Hour Day” numerous times for fun. 😉 “Obsessed” is an understatement for my love of all things planner and stationary related.  Working at The Container Store would not be lucrative for me.  My paycheck would be history before it cleared my bank account!!!

BUT… THERE IS ALWAYS ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT!

Our family has doubled in size and my personal responsibilities have mysteriously quadrupled! Not sure how that works!?! Keeping my home organized has proved exponentially more difficult with two toddlers! Keeping things in order (inwardly/spiritually) also takes much more concerted effort.

Similar to Humility, order is a foundational middah because it is essential to developing any discipline. “Without steady, systematic practice, one never emerges from mediocrity into excellence, whether it be as a violinist practicing scales for hours daily to prepare for a great solo performance, or a runner hitting the trail every day, rain or shine, to get ready for a marathon. Likewise, spiritual development requires an ordered life.”

“Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe said in the name of the Alter of Kelm that order can be compared to the clasp on a pearl necklace. The pearls are what make the necklace, and they are definitely more important than the clasp, but without the clasp the pearls will fall off and scatter, and all that will remain of the necklace is the string alone. Similarly, a person contains an abundance of strengths, intellect, character traits, and qualities. But without order, all these virtues will scatter, and he or she will be left with nothing.”

My key observations on this middah were…

1) Order is fragile and requires maintenance. In Gan Eden, Hashem charged Adam and Eve to: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Subdue it, because disorder is ready to break out at all times! Indeed, much of Jewish life is about maintaining order within this dynamic creation.

2) Order is a priority among the middot because its presence or absence will be evident. As Alan Morinis writes, “External disorder may be a reflection of internal disarray.” We might be able to mislead ourselves or our friends about other traits, but disorder will be evident. Order, then, serves as a barometer of our overall progress in Mussar.

3) Practicing order in one’s personal life involves developing and utilizing other middot.

Disorder is often the child of a rebellious ego that resists humbly occupying a rightful space. All that it whispers in your inner ear can be reduced to “I want” or “I don’t want.” I want to have fun, and cleaning up after myself is no fun. I want my leisure, and setting things in order is work. Humility – occupying one’s rightful space – is essential to order. {Ouch!}

Likewise, honor is essential to practicing order. “When you live with other people and you are content to make a mess in shared spaces, you dishonor the people you live with. Honor is due to all human beings not because of the greatness of their achievements but more simply because they embody an inherently holy soul. When you activate this inner sensibility, you want to keep things in order not just for order’s sake, but also for the higher purpose of honoring the people with whom you share relationships. All of us, are after all, are made in the divine image, and so when we honor people we honor G-d.”

I loved this thought… “Instead of fruitlessly yelling at the fire to cool down, you need to ask yourself, “What’s the water in this case? In other words, what’s the corresponding trait that will, if strengthened, cause the obstacles to orderliness to evaporate as if by themselves?”

Reflecting on any area of disorder in one’s life will likely reveal work that should be done with related middot!

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald, was a book I read several years ago. Although the book is written from a secular perspective, the author was unknowingly writing about Mussar. 😉 He made several noteworthy statements which I took the liberty of making sound a little more Jewish:

If my private world is in order, it will be because I am convinced that the inner world of the spiritual must govern the outer world of activity. 

 If my private world is in order, it will be because I have made a daily determination to see time as G-d’s gift and worthy of careful investments.

 If my private world is in order, it will be because I have determined that every day will be for me a day of growth in knowledge and wisdom.

If my private world is in order, it will be because I absorb the words of *Torah* into my attitudes and actions.

 If my private world is in order, it will be because I have begun to pursue the discipline of seeing events and people through the eyes of Hashem so that my prayers reflect my desire to be in alignment with His purposes and promises for them.

 If my private world is in order, it will be because I have chosen to press Sabbath peace into the rush and routine of my daily life in order to find the rest G-d prescribed Himself and all of humanity.

Alan Morinis’s summary is best:

“The essential value of practicing order is that by voluntarily aligning ourselves with an orderly way of living, we draw ourselves closer to the divine way of being. When we are orderly, we emulate one of G-d’s intrinsic characteristics and that draws us closer to G-d.”

In parsha Chayei Sarah, we read in Ch. 23:1 “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life.” At first glance, this pasuk sounds a little redundant. However, the commentary suggests that the phrase “the years of Sarah’s life” means they were all equal for goodness. Our forefather Abraham is described as being “advanced in days” in Ch. 24:1. Commentators explain that every moment of his every day was productive and fulfilling! They were not time wasters! They were history makers! As their progeny, we should follow in their footsteps and emulate our creator.  

Life is chaotic, but our souls don’t need to be. The wisdom of Mussar is that we can increase our inward order through practical action in our outward surroundings.

My Mussar phrases/meditations for this week were:

“All your actions and possessions should be orderly – each and every one in a set place and set time. Let your thoughts always be free to deal with that which lies ahead of you.” – Rabbi M.M. Lefin of Satanov, Cheshbon Hanefesh

Take time, be exact, unclutter the mind. – Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm

I have only hust a minute
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me,
Can’t refuse it,
Didn’t seek it,
Didn’t choose it.
I must suffer if I lose it
Give account if I abuse it
Just a tiny little minute
But eternity is in it!
– Unknown

My Mussar practices for the week were:

Look at your daily routine and see if it is working; if not, change some part of your routine so it is more lifegiving.

Take a room or space that is out of order and make a plan to organize it.

Take an area or your life that needs discipline (health, fitness, prayer) and make a plan to make time for it.

Make a habit of “Eating the Frog First!” There’s an old saying that goes, “If the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is eat a live frog, then nothing worse can happen for the rest of the day!” Whatever the task on your to-do list is that will take the most time or you are least motivated to do… get it done first. You will save time and energy by procrastinating/stressing less!

Reflecting on and accounting for areas in need of improvement in my life was a reminder that I have a lot of work to do. At the same time, I was encouraged to “beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

“The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset, to whiz through our obligations without time for a single mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life.” – Wayne Muller

The purpose for cultivating order is not for the quantity of things you can check of a to-do list. Cultivating order is about putting {quality} back into how you use your time!

May Hashem help you and I to avoid “the barrenness of a busy life” and grow in the attribute of orderliness.

Shalom,

Maayan

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{Torah and Tea: Thoughts on Elul and the High Holidays.}

Shavua Tov,

It’s a quiet Saturday night, I am sipping a cup of hot tea (HELLO FALL) and I have a chance to blog.:D

Growing up, Pesach was my favorite holiday. I love the story of redemption – both physical and spiritual. I love the traditions and symbolism of the Seder. I love how Pesach brings people together. And… I love chocolate covered matzah!!!

But as I have grown older (and hopefully wiser) I am eager to celebrate the High Holidays! They are just a few weeks away now!

The month leading up to the feasts is called Elul. The month of Elul is a time of preparation – spiritual preparation. It’s a time for introspection and reflection. It’s a time for doing teshuva. It’s a time for getting back on track spiritually.

Ultimately, the month of Elul is about returning. I have spent a lot of time over the last several weeks thinking about what exactly we are returning to and what the High Holidays are really all about.

I’ve recently read, “Inviting G-d In: Celebrating the Soul-Meaning of the Jewish Holy Days” by Rabbi David Aaron. His book is filled with beautiful descriptions of the feasts that I have to share!

“The great sixteenth-century master of the Kabbalah, Rabbi Isaac Luria – better known as the Ari – explains that the story of Adam and Eve is a paradigm for understanding this process of awareness, especially in reference to what is spiritually happening during the High Holidays.

The Torah teaches that Adam was not just a man; he was androgynous, both male and female. Neither part knew the other existed. After creating this being, G-d said that it is not good for Adam to be alone. The Torah relates that while Adam was sleeping, God separated the two beings. Adam woke up to find his other half, Eve, whom he realized was of his essence. At this point, Adam and Eve stood face-to-face, chose to unite, and experienced the ecstasy of love.

The Ari explains the story of Adam and Eve as the quintessential love story, which parallels the love story between us and G-d. Just as in the case of Adam and Eve, we experience the feelings of loneliness and alienation that actually create the yearning and the anticipation for the final conscious reuniting with G-d.

Similar to Adam and Eve –who began as one entity joined back-to-back yet knew nothing of each other’s existence – we too are intrinsically connected to G-d whether we know it or not. But without knowing it, we cannot experience the blissful joy of oneness. Until we experience alienation from G-d, yearn for oneness, and consciously choose to reconnect to G-d, until we move from being back-to-back to being face-to-face with G-d, we will not know the ecstasy of ultimate love.

According to the Kabbalah, the period beginning with Rosh Hashanah, extending into Yom Kippur, followed by the festival of Sukkot and ending with Simchat Torah, is an especially opportune time for realizing our ultimate and eternal connection to G-d and to each other. Each Rosh Hashanah, we return to a state of back-to-back with G-d – we are one with Him, but we do not know it. We yearn to return to G-d during the ten days of awe from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the day on which we are finally granted forgiveness. It is that forgiveness that reestablishes and reveals our face-to-face connection, and the joy of that forgiveness empowers us to achieve the ultimate realization of our oneness with G-d on Simchat Torah.”

Rosh Hashanah –

Rosh Hashanah is also known as Yom HaDin or the Day of Judgment. It’s the day on which G-d remembers every single little thing you did over the last year – both good and bad – and decides your fate.

The thought of being judged is a little scary and overwhelming! Yet on Rosh Hashanah, we rejoice in trembling. We acknowledge that Hashem is a righteous and compassionate judge!

One of the most beautiful traditions of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar. It beckons us to awake from our spiritual slumber and return to Hashem and to Torah. It is also a reminder to Hashem!

“The oral tradition teaches that when we blow the shofar, the King, who is sitting sternly on His throne of judgment, suddenly gets up and takes the seat of compassion (compassion is the process of kindness overriding justice.) The whole nature of the day changes when we blow the shofar. With just one piercing sound, the day is transformed from a day of judgment into a day of compassion. Why? Because by blowing the shofar, we willing submit ourselves to judgment. And that very act ignites, so to speak, compassion in G-d.”

On Rosh Hashanah, Hashem judges us not because He wants to get back at us and slap us around a little. He is judging us because He loves and cares for us. On Rosh Hashanah, we are returning to Avinu Malkeinu, “Our Father, Our King.”

Yom Kippur –

Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement is a day of love and forgiveness.

“The Talmud teaches that in this world, when something good happens to us, we praise God: “Blessed be He who is good and does good.” But when something bad happens, we must say. “Blessed is He who is a true Judge.” However, in the future we will say, “Blessed is He who is good and does good” even about the misfortunes in our lives. In other words, when we will look back and see the whole picture, we will realize that every bad thing that happened to us contributed to G-d’s plan, which is to bring upon us ultimate goodness. This is also true about every bad thing that we did.”

There is a connection between Yom Kippur and Purim.

“On Purim we are able to say “blessed is Haman” because although he was evil, even Haman contributed to G-d’s plan for goodness. Yom Kippur is like Purim because on that day even our misdeeds can be seen as positive forces in serving G-d’s will and plan. Therefore, on Yom Kippur G-d forgives us and we can forgive ourselves. The darkness can serve the light, and the ugly past can be recycled into a beautiful future.”

On Yom Kippur we are returning to G-d, our Forgiving Parent.

Sukkot –

“On Rosh Hashanah we experience G-d as a Judge. On Yom Kippur we experience G-d as our Lover. According to the Kabbalah, when we sit in the close confines of the sukkah, we feel G-d hugging us.”

“Judaism teaches that the goal of life and the source of true happiness is holiness. We are holy when we are whole – integrated and harmonious with our inner self, with our nation, with the rest of humanity, with nature, and with G-d. We accomplish this by fulfilling the commandments of G-d.”

“From Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, we work our way back from disintegration to wholeness and happiness. On Sukkot we reach the finish line and celebrate becoming whole again. As part of this celebration of wholeness, we take the four species and wave them toward the four corners of the world, as well as up and down.”

“The Talmudic sages tell us that the four species represent different parts of ourselves. The citron symbolizes our heart; the palm branch symbolizes our spine; the shape of the myrtle leaves suggests our eyes; and the willow leaves look like our mouth. Therefore, when we hold them together to fulfill the commandment of waving them on Sukkot, it is as if we are pulling ourselves together and dedicated ourselves to G-d.”

On Sukkot we celebrate wholeness and return to our Lover.

Each passing year, the thought of Hashem as a compassionate Judge, a forgiving Parent, and a faithful Lover become more and more profound to me!

I pray that as we finish out the month of Elul, chop apples, fast, and dine in our sukkahs we are reminded of the soul meaning of the High Holidays and who we are returning to!

B”H,
Maayan