What’s Your Fantasy Synagogue

Please see my new article in The Times of Israel called, “What’s Your Fantasy Synagogue.”

We all go to synagogues that we like in some ways and don’t like in others, but have you ever thought about what your fantasy synagogue would be like if you could make one?Last Shabbat, we were invited for lunch by some wonderful friends who had been sports writers, and the topic of fantasy football came up, where people compete for coming up with the best team by picking their own players and forming their ideal team. I said, half jokingly, wouldn’t it be great if we could do the same thing with synagogues and pick the best aspects of each and make an ideal house of worship for ourselves where we could pray, learn, grow, and experience holiness and community. 

In the article, I detail “the best of the best” when it comes to synagogues and the ultimate ideal synagogue is of course, in the coming of the Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple. 


(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal) 

Family and Friends

So I heard this interesting saying yesterday, which goes like this:

Better is a neighbor that is near than a brother that is far off.


I looked it up and saw that it is actually from Proverbs 27:10.


Thinking about it a little, I understand that obviously people that are close by can more easily be there and help one another than someone else who is far away. 


At the same time, I always learned growing up that:

Blood is thicker than water.

Family is family, and friends are friends.  Family is forever, but friends can come and go. 


Yet you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. 


There are some friends that go back decades to childhood and they are almost like family. 


Also, there are sometimes family that are disassociated or even “black sheep” of the family. 


I guess in the end what’s most important is how we feel about each other, treat each other, and are there for each other.  


Whatever the designation–family or friends–we need each other.  😉


(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Open Your Eyes

Please see my new article in The Times of Israel called, “Open Your Eyes to Hashem.”

G-d has a plan and a reason for everything–not only for them, but for all of us. We are all on a journey, and even if we don’t always readily see G-d, it’s part of our core faith that He is always there, He is guiding us, and that everything is for the best. Yet despite our best efforts to have faith, at times, we may feel that we don’t know what we’re doing here–why we’re at this place, at this time, or even how we got here–we may actually feel a little lost. Maybe we just can rattle off a list of “Well I did this and then that and then this other thing happened.” But exactly how we got to where we are, regardless of our best laid plans, is often a mystery to us as human beings. As I often tell students and colleagues in the planning discipline of enterprise architecture, “Man plans, and G-d laughs.”


While we may think we are going about fulfilling our plans and accomplishing our life dreams, the truth is that everything ultimately comes from G-d. He gives you the strength, the health, the family and friends as support, the talent, the opportunity, and the right thoughts in your head and the right words in your mouth to do what you do. Of course, we must do our part and the hard work to find and fulfill our mission in life and to overcome the challenges we face, but we are flesh and blood and in the bigger realm of things, messengers of G-d in fulfilling his bigger plan for all of us. If we open our eyes, we realize that wherever we end up and whatever happens to us is by His merciful decree.

(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

We’re Part of a Much Larger Script

I loved this explanation of the Book of Job by Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

G-d answers by showing Job the incredible elements of creation and the universe.

Why?

1) Complexity and Interrelationship of the Universe:

As isolated individuals, we might expect to be judged solely by our individual deeds of good and bad (2-dimensional), but also we are cogs in the larger universe (the 3rd dimension).

Therefore, what happens to us is not just a result of what we do, but also is a part of G-d’s larger overall plan for the world. 

Even small acts can have large impacts.

For example, you sneeze and somewhere down the line it causes a tsunami.

Similarly, like actors in a cosmic play of a billion pages, we may not see or understand why our individual role may be what it is, but if you would see and understand the context of the overall drama (what came before us, after us, and how it all interrelates) then from a G-d’s eye view, it makes sense.

Every act of destruction can lead to a higher divine purpose.

Like the grass that is mowed over and uprooted to plants crops or the wheat that is harvested and ground up to make bread.

So, we can have faith that there is a reason and purpose for everything even if it is a mystery or unanswered question to us.

And even in our suffering, G-d, the master of the Universe, is saying that “I’m here with you thru it all.” You are not alone!

2) By challenging us, G-d gives us the “tough gift” to cope, grow, and become better people. 

Even though things that happen may look bad to you, they can lead to good for you.

You don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.

You have choice: you can be bitter, resentful, cynical, and angry or can look at life with hope, optimism and resilience.

Thus, suffering can be a vehicle of self-transformation and elevation. The challenges you face can help you become a different person–a greater person.

You can learn to feel not just your own pain and disappointment, but that of others.

You have the opportunity to grow yourself and the opportunity to help others.

(Thank you to Rebecca Ochayon for sending me this awesome video!)

OMG, What A Beautiful Song

And Even In Hiding

By Yaakov Shwekey & Kobi Peretz

Even though I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death
I fear no evil
Because you are with me
Even behind the difficult things you are going through
I stand…I stand…I stand
Even in the place which is hidden, within that which is hidden
Surely, the blessed Hashem is found there too  

My heart and soul are uplifted by this beautiful song. 😉

OOOC…Order Out Of Chaos

Life is not meant to be chaos (or partially that is). 


That’s why G-d created a natural order and rules of nature. 


From the laws of physics to repeatable mathematical formulations, the universe may be infinitely large and complex, but it is not without standards of function. 


According to the Law of Causality, the world is a pattern of action and reaction (or effect), where everything is a consequence of something prior. 


Even in Chaos Theory, we find that in apparent randomness, there are underlying patterns. 


Absent a miracle, the sun rises every morning and sets every evening. 


Yet, nature and man can also bring catastrophe whereby the world seems like one big chaotic mess. 


Whether from illness, natural disaster, or conflict, our world, can in a moment be turned on it’s head. 


Moreover, it’s all predictably unpredictable. 


And it’s up to us to make Order Out Of Chaos (OOOC). 


This is where many of us either sink or swim. 


When the chips are down, and all the world seems to be imploding with dysfunction, this is where we need to find and make sense and order.


Bad things happen even to good people. 


Good people need to find the faith and the strength, and with G-d’s help, rise to the challenge. 


Easier said than done, for sure. 


In the chaos of things, time may stop and everything becomes a blur.  


We may become like a deer in the headlights–frozen with panic and truly not knowing what to do. 


But if we can just find which way is up. 


Then we can redirect ourselves–rising from the depths of despair to the surface, where the sun is shining and we can gasp a breath again. 


Even around our dysfunction is function to be had. 


Solve a problem, do something constructive, and help others…it’s all part of making order out of chaos.  😉


(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Smell The Flowers

Beautiful flowers. 


G-d made them for us. 


Soft petals. 


Magnificent colors.


Fresh sweet smells. 


The sound of rustling in the wind. 


Absorbing the rays of sunshine.


Drinking the rain water. 


Planted in the soil of the earth. 


Magical flowers of life, love, and peace. 


(Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Life = Growth

Thought this was an interesting photo at REI.


It says behind the cash registers:

People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. – Eleanor Roosevelt


The  background has this serene river flow–along with some obvious whitewater. 


But in front of it, the cash register area is hopping crazy and messy.


It’s a contradiction–not unlike life itself which is full of it’s own ups and downs that challenge us routinely. 


Life is where we get the experience that shapes us and strengthens us, as long as it does not break us.  


Life = Growth


Why else would we be here?


G-d is the best teacher. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Leading Change

I heard a great presentation on change management.


Some highlights I really liked:


– U.S. Army War College in developing high performance leaders seeks to develop competency to operate in an “VUCA” environment:


Volatile

Uncertain

Complex

Ambigious


– The key is NOT to get “emotionally/amygdala hijacked” where our “reptilian brain” in response to threats jumps to:


Fight, Flight, or Freeze


– Instead, we need to manage change methodically as “transitions” (which are personal and emotional) so that we understand that:


Every Ending is a New Beginning


(G-d does not close one door without opening a new one for us.)


–  When one thing in life comes to an end, this is where there is enormous potential for growth in:


The Reinvention of Ourselves


Release the emotions and be ready to move on!


– In short, it can be difficult to accept change unless we realize that:


Problems = Opportunities


And this is the critical place where we can try new things and learn and grow. 


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

(Maybe) Stop Complaining

So this past Shabbat, there was a wonderful guest speaker at Aish, Rav Gav(riel) Friedman. 


He was a very lively speaker and with a lot of worthy teachings for his lucky audience. 


One thing he said that really stuck with me is about people that complain. 


People have hard lives!


As he said, “I don’t know what each of you has been through.”


But one thing that can help us cope with our challenges is our perspective.  


And then he said the following:

We need to be glad that we have something to complain about!


Huh, what does that mean?


Well, think about it…


– If you complain about your spouse, thank G-d that you are married (and have a life partner) to complain about. 


– If you complain about your job, thank G-d that you have a job (and income) that you can complain about. 


– If you complain about your food, thank G-d that you have food to eat (and sustenance for your body) to complain about.


And so on and so forth. 


Whatever we complain about, think about what you actually have (the big picture) and what you are complaining about (usually the little picture). 


Really, we have so much to be grateful for that we can easily just forget or take for granted. 


So next time your complaining, THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE that you are complaining about–you might stop yourself from complaining.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)