Pushing Buttons and the Big Brush-off

On the way out of the house the other morning, my son Josh asked me if God helps when you ask for it. The answer that I gave him, thinking back on it, seemed to come from somewhere else. I said, “If you make the effort in your task, God will help you do it; if you don’t make the effort, the only choice that ‘you’ have left God is to try and teach you from ‘your’ mistake of not making the effort in the first place.” Josh smiled... and so did I…

Relationships between people seem to make all the difference in the world, which is what I have been thinking about this week. Since I have been really busy with lots of things (and you know how it goes sometimes…), it has been really hard to find that quality time to spend with the people I love and care about. Sure, we ‘make’ time, but that, sadly, is exactly the point. We seem to put our creations in this world first; just think of it like this: ‘we MAKE time.’ You know, we are busy, multitasking people that have to get to work, finish that project, help the kids with their homework, care for our pets, and somewhere along the way find time to ‘MAKE’ time for our relationships.

It seems that we, as a species, believe that the goal is to create things, to address specific issues in order to further our creations, and to advance our knowledge and capabilities. In truth, the exact opposite is true. How so? Well, we learn from the ancient wisdom of the Rabbis that everything we create, everything we do, everything that comes to completion, whether making a peanut butter sandwich or closing the biggest deal we have ever made, is ‘only’ about the relationships that we grow along the way. Believe it or not, the only reason we have a project in the first place is so that we can be interrupted right in the middle of it in order to understand that the project is only the vehicle; the real ride in life is the relationship with the people that we have the opportunity to engage with and this, my friends, all starts with our personal relationship with God.

When I was teaching Life Drawing at the University of California, Irvine, I had this small, but really great experience with a student that could not draw. He was beyond frustrated about not being able to put the background lines in the background and the foreground lines in the foreground. In his drawings, everything was coming together at strange angles and creating these really awkward perspectives; he was extremely disturbed about it. This particular kid felt really bad about himself because of his inabilities in this area. He seemed to want me to give him some magic formula to make his creations alright, maybe making ‘him’ alright, but even though I tried many different tracts and tricks to teach him to draw, I perceived that both of us, at one point and only once, succeeded in understanding the real reason we were engaging together in the Life Drawing Class.

Being an artist, I have this philosophy about constructive criticism. For every person, there is a good button and a bad button. When we try to reach out to someone, maybe in an effort at teaching or in any relationship for that matter, the challenge is to find both of their buttons and work with them in the right proportions, based on the task at hand; not easy, but doable with some effort. So, since this kid was so overwhelmed, I had to be really careful not to push his bad button. If I were to confirm his opinions and (from his perspective) judge him by the quality of his creations, I would have caused his self worth to plummet and nothing but destruction of relationship would have resulted, which is often followed by depression, destruction of the creation, and the depleting of any future creation or relationship potential (tragic if you ask me).

Instead, I was genuinely amazed at his drawings! Looking for the good in them I found that they ‘were’ really wonderful and naïve. What resulted was a moment of pure connection between us. He didn’t really understand why I liked his drawings and I couldn’t really, at the time, explain it either. He just looked at me and smiled; then he looked at the others in the class, as did I, and they couldn’t understand it either, but many of them smiled too. To this day I remember that this kid’s contorted perspective, twisted objects of creation were amazing tools that built relationship between every one of us in that classroom. We didn’t understand why it was that way, just that it was right.

A photograph began to circulate this week of Benjamin Netanyahu and Barrack Obama from when they were in their twenties. I found myself staring at it, analyzing the minds behind these men at the helm of nations, great and small. This picture, of course, was accompanied by a clever little line referring to the diplomatic breakdown of communication that recently occurred between Israel and the USA over the 1967 Armistice Line that cuts Israel, a country the size of New Jersey, in half. Armistice means ‘peace’ or ‘settlement,’ which makes absolutely no sense to me, since before 1967, while Israel was restricted to the west side of that border with the Arab nations, every conceivable manifestation of war and terror was committed against Israel; and since Israel has controlled both sides of it... ?... not perfect, but like night and day. Anyways, back to the photograph; take a look again at these guys:

Notice the look on their faces. Notice the clothes they are wearing. Notice their posture. This is the perfect picture of the archetypical images of Jacob and Esau, of Genesis (not the band) fame. Jacob (Netanyahu) is lean, yet full of hope, and focused on the goal, with an evidently grim mission of pure survival at hand, while Esau (Obama) is relaxed, letting his hair down in comfort, with the very physical (world) gesture of a cigarette in-hand. So, who ‘are’ these characters that I so deftly inserted into the storyline here...?

A commentary that I read about this week’s parsha, ‘Bamidbar’ (or for Hebrew challenged individuals: ‘In the Desert’) (Numbers 1:1-4:20), reminded me of what ‘the desert’ means in spiritual terms. The desert is also referred to as ‘the wilderness,’ which is associated with power, might, and the spiritual emptiness that embodies the purely physical world. This metaphysical energy in the Universe is associated with the dark forces of evil, forces that are identified with Esau and his spiritual guardian angel, Sama’el, who, in some mystical sources say, was actually the Snake in the Garden of Eden.

As I wrote about last week, Evil isn’t necessarily a bad thing, having been created by God, by removing Himself from the corners of the world, for a reason; but, nevertheless, it is not necessarily a good thing either. We have a tendency to put Evil on one side and Good on the other, but really they are all in one (in a sense), ‘Good’ is completeness or fullness, and ‘Evil’ is the lack thereof or the shadow left behind. Ideas and philosophies of Dualism give God and Evil even parts to play, a kind of cosmic battle between light and dark; this is not what I am talking about. What I am trying to shape, to cast, and to render here is about ‘One Universe’ made up of material or substance and its respective absence as well, essential characters in ‘One’ cosmic play, like a kind of lost wax process of cosmic reality — without the ‘wax,’ there is no reality…

So, since we are starting to delve into the secret, hidden nature of the ‘One Universe and also that I missed writing about Lag’BaOmer this year,’ the celebration of when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai received the final text of the Zohar and perished from this world in flames (click here for the full story in a previous blog entry), let’s just see some of what the Zohar has to say on the subject of Jacob, Esau, and the desert:

“...the two (Esau and Jacob) separated, each going off towards his own side, the one making his abode in the Holy Land, the other on Mount Seir, being as he was a cunning hunter, ‘a man of the field’ (Genesis 25:27). The latter (Esau) had his home in the desert, in regions of waste and desolation, while the former (Jacob) dwelt in tents, all being fitly ordained. Hence it is that there are two grades, ‘blessed’ and ‘cursed,’ each ranged on its own side. From the one issue all blessings in the upper and the lower worlds, all beneficence, all light, all deliverance, all redemption; whilst the other is the source of all curses, all wars and bloodshed, all desolation and evil, and all defilement. (Zohar Bresheet, 184b)”

Oy... that is heavy stuff... Just remember that we are talking about the Spiritual Realm versus the Physical Realm, and not specific people we might know, like certain politicians; speaking of which, I wonder what kind of a relationship Netanyahu and Obama might have had if they had known each other, way back when they were in their twenties? Probably, based on what their faces and posturing tell us in the picture, I think that it would have been a lot like it is today, accept just a bit more obvious, which is why this picture is so relevant to what is really going on.

I began to speak of ‘One Universe’ earlier. Did you know the gematria of the word ‘one’ (אחד) in Hebrew is 13? This is also the gematria of the word ‘love’ (אהבה). In Leviticus 19:18, God tells us, “You shall love your neighbor as you do yourself, I am Hashem.” right? Wrong. This is the usual translation; however, look at it from your neighbor’s perspective. Can you, or anyone for that matter, really have the same love for someone else as they have, ultimately, for themselves? Even though it seems like the ideal, it is really most likely pretty much impossible for us mortals.

(לא תקם ולא תטר את בני עמך ואהבת לרעך כמוך אני יה")

According to Rabbi Abraham Twerski, the phrase written above (If your computer is Hebrew enabled), when read in the original Hebrew, tells us that the definition of ‘love’ is Ve’ahavta and the sensation or experience of that love is ‘lerei’acha kamocha’ (to wish for another what you would wish for yourself). So, in other words, the phrase is saying to be ‘selfless’ with your love. It then follows at the end with, “Ani (I Am) Hashem.” This is the unpronounceable name of God.

So, if a person loves his neighbor selflessly, ultimately giving over all that he/she is, and that neighbor returns that love in the exact same way, they will be united as ‘One.’ Yes, number 13. Now, if Hashem experiences this giant sort of selfless relationship in our little world of generally small and selfish relationships, the coalescing of separate and small beings into complete and total relationship and Oneness, He also joins the ‘Oneness’ party going on down below. Sooo..., the unpronounceable name of God is equal to 26, which is equal to 13 + 13, which is equal to the ‘selfless love’ that we share in a relationship, which is equal to, you guessed it, ‘One!’

All I can say now is: if we can just get Esau and Jacob to share like that. If we could get that to happen, get each one of them to ‘love’ each other selflessly, to get the ‘spiritual’ energy in the world to stop pretending it is the ‘physical’ and to get the ‘physical’ energy in the world to pay attention to the ‘spiritual,’ then we would have something to truly rejoice about, not just some cockamamie ‘land-for-(supposed)-peace’ deal designed to sooth the comfort of semi-reclining politicians.

May the Mashiach come soon to the reality nearest you!

Shabbat Shalom!!

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