Friday, November 02, 2012

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by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

akiva_bwA few months back, a Jewish site in Brazil, written in Portuguese, contacted me for an interview.  Here it is, in English (they translated my responses to Portuguese for their Brazilian readership)…

Interview of Reb Akiva in Jornal Mitzva’

1. What is the first step necessary for making positive changes?

- To take a first step! Not to think about it, or plan it, or hope for positive. But to DO IT. Then, of course, one must take a second step.

2. Some Rabbis states the importance the study of Kabbalah, while other Rabbis have prohibited it. It seems are there two ways to follow, what to do?

- The historical rule has been not to learn Kabbalah until one is 40 years old and learned in the foundations of Torah. Kabbalah includes the secrets of the Torah, our connection with Hashem, of the universe and of the soul.

In our generation we find many practices of kabbalah have been incorporated into regularly practiced Judaism, and many of the philosophical and theological ideas in kabbalah can be learned in chassidus and mussar. It is very important to learn some in our times, as the modern world presents philosophical challenges that kabbalah, chassidus and mussar answer.

Yet the average Jew is not prepared to learn kabbalah directly. Here are some good alternatives available with full English translations:

Chabad's "Tanya".
Breslev's "Likkutei Mohoran".
Tzava'at HaRivash, attributed to the Baal Shem Tov and translated into English by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet.
MiPeninei Noam Elimelech, translated into English by Rabbi Tal Moshe Zwecker.

3. What might one be overlooking when it comes to being grateful to the Almighty?

- Every day in this world is a gift from Hashem. Every ability we have is a gift from Hashem. Every challenge that makes us grow is a gift from Hashem. And every challenge that brings us pain and/or humbles us, is a cleansing gift from Hashem.

Every morning when we wake up we are given the opportunity to say Mo'de ani, the morning prayer (in most siddurim) thanking Hashem for restoring our soul to our body. Every day we are alive is a day filled with opportunity. Opportunity for mitzvot, opportunity for goodness and kindness, opportunity to learn, opportunity to marvel at Hashem's creation.

4. Thinking over all we need to do in order to overcome the negative traits. We saw some people feel discouraged. The task seems to be so formidable that they find it difficult to get started. I did feel it as well. What can we tell ourselves to make it easier?

- A mountain always seems tall, far away and unreachable. If you look at negative traits as a mountain you will never get started.

But you are not expected to climb a mountain in a single step or a single day!

You are expected to take 1 step and improve TODAY. Just today! All you have to do is 1 step in 1 day.
Tomorrow is a dream and in the hands of Hashem! And yesterday is the past which we cannot change (though we may do teshuvah for). All we have to do is manage to take a step today.

Stop trying to climb the mountain. Just make that one step today…. And before you know it, those steps and days will add up and you will have changed your life.

5. Could you please explain why seeking approval is considered such a negative trait?

- I'm not sure I understand what you mean. If you mean seeking approval of others, indeed the social drive to be accepted can lead one to do foolish things and be led in negative directions by the crowd. That is why Pirke Avos tells us to avoid a negative friend and a negative neighbor.

If you mean seeking approval of a teacher, parent or rabbi, that's a positive thing.

6. Why do people do things they know are counterproductive and harmful?

- We are given the gift of bechira, free will, by Hashem. To give us the opportunity to turn towards and do good, we must have the desire to do otherwise.

Chassidus calls the desire to do negative things a "ruach shtuss", a foolish impulse. Yet it's exactly that impulse which offers us the ability to turn towards the positive and do mitzvot.

That is part of the challenges of a soul entering this physical world.

7. The idealism some people leads them to hate those who oppose their ideals. Do you feel many people are very distant of Divine Commandments and following their own ideas? How to bring them closer to G-d?

- To our great regret, the majority of the Jewish people in this generation are unaware of their heritage and their relationship to their Father in Heaven.

I do not find Jews of this generation to oppose Hashem or His Torah. The vast majority are simply ignorant of Torah Judaism.

Various Jewish outreach organizations use different methods. Aish HaTorah and Discovery teach amazing circumstances one can use to see Hashem in this world. Chabad teaches and reaches out with love of every Jew.

Different things reach different people. The main thing is to be willing to talk to our fellow Jew, to share Torah, to not be embarrassed to talk about G-d and His Torah, and to care about EVERY Jew as if he is our brother – because he is!

8. The Torah forbids stealing from anyone. In our global financial system, there is a crisis in economy around the world, what is view of Torah about this and what can we apply in our lives?

- Torah recognizes that the personal profit motive is an important motivator for every individual. Personal property is strongly respected in Jewish law. We are expected to do to the best of our ability to support ourselves and our families.

But Torah also recognizes a communal obligation to support the poor, the needy, the indigent, the widow, and the orphan. This communal obligation is performed through every person being required to give tzedakah (charity).

We cannot ignore our needy brethren because 'they deserve their circumstances', 'their situation is G-d's will', 'they made bad decisions', 'it's the government's problem', or 'someone else will take care if it'. Every Jew is our brother, we are obligated to do what we can!

Regarding the world political systems that caused the current problems, any system that gets out of balance and becomes extreme falls to it's own weaknesses.

9. When people (Jew or Non-Jew) look for a suitable person to marry. They frequently find the process long and difficult. How can these difficulties be made easier to cope with?

- First, one should have a realistic view of marriage. Unfortunately, the Hollywood / movie – television view has invaded just about every culture around the world, giving either a view of perfection, romanticism, or extreme physicality (or combinations thereof) – none of which are even remotely associated with real life.

This has been made worse by modern "it's all about me" culture, which has led to a breakdown of families in many modern societies. In the U.S. over 40% of marriages end in divorce, and cohabitation rates have reached as high as 50% (of people having done so for a while at some period).

The point of all this is, one should build a realistic view of marriage, it's goals, compromises and results. One should then decide the important things one is looking for in a partner (this should be a list of 3-5 primary concerns – not a list of 100!)

One should then take the active steps necessary to make it likely to find a spouse with the attributes one judges important. This may mean putting oneself in different social circumstances, or even traveling to a different city!
And of course, one should pray to Hashem to bring one together with one's zivug (match).

10. In your website, Mystical Paths, we can to read about news and articles latest developments in the world, it seems we are living in times of big changes, search for spirituality, etc. What do you think?

- We are definitely in a time of change. Great upheaval such as we have not seen in generations is in progress, taking place throughout the world in a variety of ways (financial, political, environmental).

We similarly seem to be at a world crossroads regarding science and spirituality, regarding Western cultural morality, and regarding pure materialism.

It's a time of worry, but also a time of opportunity. G-d willing these are the upheavals in preparation for the coming of Moshiach and the Geulah Shalayma!

11. Could you leave a message for our readers?

- What an amazing time we live in! I can share some Torah thoughts or some sights from the Holy Land, the Land of Israel, in English and you can read them in Portuguese a few minutes later on the other side of the world!

In generations past our holy forefathers knew that had to rely upon each other to build a functioning Jewish community. They built synagogues and schools, mikvaot and kosher bakeries and butchers. They set up communal charity funds for the sick and the needy. They didn't count on the government to do it (it wouldn't have), they didn't wait for someone else to do it. They made it happen.

Today we rely on our governments (or major companies) for most of our infrastructure. Roads and police, sewers and schools, hospitals and phone and internet.

We have forgotten about each other. We have forgotten our obligations to our brothers. The elderly, the sick, the poor, and ourselves! Torah classes, even a communal BBQ.

Today we have so many abilities, to communicate, to coordinate, to share. It's up to use to make it better…for another, for our brothers, even for ourselves. Today each and every one of us can make an impact.

We can do good, we can do a mitzvah, we can literally change the world. Helping a person out when they need it, even just being a friend, can literally save a person's life. Change a life, change the world.

Everyone can do a little every single day. And by doing so we can bring a bit of Gan Eden into this world, making it literally a dwelling place for Hashem…today!


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