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Finding Your Option B

Rabbi Gaines Option BToday, I woke up in dread. A feeling of loss, of deep sadness, weighed heavy on my heart. For a moment, I forgot that it was day, that the sun had risen filling the sky with light. Though my neighbors were busy greeting one another with a cheerful “good morning,” I could not see them. The birds were circling the trees above busily chirping their morning song, but I couldn’t hear them. Fresh coffee was brewing in my kitchen, its pleasant aroma filling the rooms and hallways of our humble abode, but I could not smell it. It was as if all of my senses had been abducted and locked away in some deep dark basement. But such is the outcome of depression, of fixating on “the bad,” on what is wrong with the world. Often we forget that the achieving (and maintaining) of happiness is less about “perfection” - life unfolding in some imagined perfect order - and more about adaptation, our ability to find an “Option B,” a path that moves us around the obstacle of the moment. In short, from a Torah perspective there is no such thing as a dead end! Please, remove that term from your vocabulary.

What does the Torah have to say?

Nearly 400 years ago, the master Kabbalist, Rabbi Issac Luria of Tzvat (the Ari’zl) explained that all phenomena (physical and spiritual) possess not one but two dimensions: “Chitzoniut” (Hebrew for “External”) and “Pinimut” (Hebrew for “Internal”). Explains the Ari’zl, the external dimension (of a given thing) represents limitation, its definition as far as our coarse senses can measure it. In contrast, a thing’s internal dimension represents its limitless potential - all that it can be in the eyes of God. Life’s depressions arise specifically because we ONLY see the externally limited “Option A” (of a given situation), forgetting, altogether, that a much deeper (limitless) “Option B” exists! Simply stated, we forget that God has already arranged “another path” (an alternate road) by which we can maneuver around and conquer the challenge of the moment.

Ok, so how do I find it?

In short, you must “sweat!” Permit me to explain. It is said of Rabbi Issac Luria (the Ari’zl) that he would immerse himself hour after hour in the study of Biblical law until he would physically perspire (you could actually see the sweat dripping from his brow)! When other Rabbis inquired as to why he would exert himself with such intensity, the Ari’zl poetically explained that surrounding every good “fruit” there exists a “shell,” i.e. surrounding every good truth there exists a barrier obscuring its revelation. “If I do not exert myself,” the Ari’zl explained, “how can I possibly crack the shell?” To the Ari’zl all of life’s questions (the “shell”) no matter the complexity, possess an answer (the “fruit”) attainable - only if you are willing to “sweat” (exert yourself) until the “shell” is broken - the answer is found. Hence, to discover the “fruit” of a much deeper “Option B” (within a given challenge), you must be willing to “sweat” - to exert yourself - until you break the mighty “shell” (the great lie) that suggests you have reached a dead end.

Lesson summarized:

Only by believing that “God creates the cure before the disease” (Rabbis), i.e. that an Option B always exists no matter the formidability of the challenge, can we rise above our fears to crack the “shell,” the great illusion, that today’s challenge can’t be bested. Such exertion most certainly will reveal the “fruit,” the happiness, of our deepest and truest self.
There is ALWAYS an option B.....find it!

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Does Creation Have A Reason?

Rabbi Gaines Creations ReasonCreation is a great mystery, for neither the philosophical nor scientific schools of thought offer a truly satisfying answer to explain the “mind of God” - the Creator’s reason(s) for our existence, i.e. why we are here! A college student enrolled in an introductory Physics class once asked his professor, “Where did existence come from?” The professor explained, “The Big Bang.” The student pressed on with yet another question, “And what came before the Big Bang” (before space and time?) Answered the professor, “Singularity.” “Can you please explain to me what created the singularity” asked the student? The professor smiled and pointing down the hallway declared, “For that, you should go consult with the theology department!”


Some questions lie beyond our scientific rationale (our logical methodologies), for they touch a place deep within the human experience that our microscopes and telescopes can’t go. In short, they touch a place beyond all space, time, matter, and energy, beyond the constituents of our physical world. They reach the very soul of our existence. One such question has always been, If God is perfect (complete in every way), why did He create? What need is there to create seeing as it adds nothing to Him....He is already perfect? Explains the Rabbinical Sages, “God created because of passion!” Clarifies the great Chassidic Master Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch, “We do not known the reason(s) for this passion (what motivated His passion), only, that there was a passion.” In short, creation is a Divine drive, a relentless compulsion, in a manner of speaking, who’s source lies “above mind” - above all logic. In other words, you and I exist because God in some unimaginable way yearned - above all logic and rationale - for us to be. He wants only us and will have it no other way!


There is a powerful lesson to be learned here.


In the book of Psalms, King David declares, “A world of kindness you (God) have made.” This kindness, explain the Sages, is one with the “mindless passion” mentioned above. You see God’s love (because it is connected to a passion that is above reason) has no limitations; hence, it never expires. This conveys a rather powerful message about love, tolerance, hope, and forgiveness. Namely, there is no place you can fall (no sin that is too deep or dark) that His love cannot reach. You need only call out, “From the depths I call to you” (Psalm 130) and you will be answered. This ability to tap into God’s love, a love beyond all reason, and climb out from the depths of despair, helplessness, grief, and loneliness, is the secret of “Teshuvah,” Hebrew for, “Returning.”


So, return my brothers and sisters and remember, it is you who is God’s passion...He would have it no other way!

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Constructive Conflict

Rabbi Gaines Constructive ConflictHuman-beings are a contentious bunch. Just ask any historian, or better yet, read your daily newsfeed (plenty of evidence there). Let’s face it; we all love a good fist fight, and, surprising as it may sound, the Torah (Bible) actually ok’s it! Explain the Sages, our need to challenge (our competitive spirit) has given rise to astonishing innovations, breakthroughs that have occurred precisely because we stood up and challenged the status quo. From a Torah perspective a little “duality,” a little healthy friction, is useful provided it’s growth-promoting. If so, we must ask the following: When does “constructive-conflict” (growth promoting confrontation) become destructive? At what point is the duel no longer beneficial?

Healthy sparring, explains the Talmud (Tactate Ta’anit), is likened to “Two knives sharpening each other.” To clarify, the friction caused by two “knives” (two sharp minds) “colliding” (disagreeing on a given topic) “sharpens” (matures) both parties regardless of who wins. Simply stated, if conflict is done right - with a Talmudic spirit - the parties engaged will emerge faster, sharper, and wiser. And here lies the great secret to achieving “sagely conflict”: always strive for truth. To constructively “do battle” and grow from a challenge, we must remember that it is never about us (our ego). It’s about discovery. It’s about chipping away at the proverbial stone, the barriers to our clear understanding, and finding the diamond (the spark of truth) within. Such an ability (setting aside ego in favor of truth) is termed “sagely” because it requires years of practice to achieve.

In the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, “We pray daily that God will grant us just a moment of authentic truth.” It’s that rare! So embrace your conflicts and remember, it’s only about the truth. 

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How To (at least) Act Righteous

Rabbi Gaines How to Act RighteousArousal (spiritual awakening) is a profound thing, for who can deny the mental, emotional, and yes, even physical impact, a sudden, “Now I see,” moment creates? Kabbalah teaches that far greater than service in a moment of deep arousal (during which one’s prayers, studies, and good deeds achieve optimal expression) is service from “limitation,” or, service derived from  struggle with one’s inner darkness (one’s personal limitations). To say it another way, anyone can boast spiritual accomplishment when the lands “flow with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 31:20), i.e. when the very highest levels of Divine consciousness flow effortlessly into one’s mind, heart, and limbs (as it is the nature of people to serve when feeling good). The challenge, explains Kabbalah, is service at “night,” i.e. in moments of constricted consciousness when God appears/feels far away (distant from the soul and body), for the maintaining of faithfulness in moments of uncertainty has always been a core virtue of the righteous. This idea is beautifully expressed in the Code of Jewish Law (the book governing religious Jewish life) wherein, we learn that the path of the righteous (elevated souls of the generation) is to constantly affix before their eyes King David’s immortal words, “I place God before me always” (Psalm 16:8). The simple meaning of the text suggests a service without “borders,” or, perpetual service that exists irrespective of the boundaries erected by subjective feelings (for “always” means ALWAYS, whether happy or sad, hot or cold, day or night). Hence, it is the righteous - the polished souls of the generation - who achieve such a lofty form of continuous and uninterrupted service (disconnected as they are from the limitations of ego, or subjective self). That being said, there is an important dimension to this teaching that any of us can achieve (irrespective of our level of soul), provided we learn to perceive “darkness” (challenge) from a slightly more elevated perspective. Explains the Ozer Eliyahu (student of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk), if we examine the above verse (Psalm 16:8) a little deeper, a remarkable idea emerges. The Hebrew word “L’negdi” (translated in English to mean “before me”) derives from the same Hebrew  root (“Neged”) as the word “against.” Factoring that into the equation, the above verse from King David (Psalm 16:8) can now be read, “I put God (even in) what’s against me always!” Meaning simply, I serve God even when I feel that the world is against me - when alien forces rise to challenge my spiritual progress. 

And what, then, is the lesson?

To serve God as the consummately righteous do (even if we do not possess, in truth, their lofty traits), we need only begin by taking a stance for God - for His principles - even when the world (within and without) acts “against” us (tells us it’s unpopular to do so).

So, rise one rise all, you warriors of God who walk the Divine path and care for our Master’s honor, for whether righteous or only striving to be, you can absolutely take a firm stance against the ever growing “L’negdi,” (“against” as explained above), in all of its forms - spiritual and physical. Remember, the rising tides of perversion and gross secularism (that threaten every sacred foundation upon which this, God’s world, is built), show no signs of slowing down. In fact, they are only growing stronger, bolder, and more capable. They are pushing, without remorse, into every imaginable institution. Why shouldn’t we, God’s soldiers, do exactly the same?

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Resisting Gravity

Rabbi Gaines Resisting GravityThe human being faces an intense contradiction. One the one hand, his body is made of earth - physical substance - and it’s the nature of earthly physical things to disassociate (pull apart). On the one hand, his soul (his core) is an agent of the most high, a “portion of God from above” (Job 31:2). The contradiction is rather obvious and it begs the question: How do such intense opposites, body and soul, coexist?

The answer, explain the Sages, lies in their seeking out commonality, or, their unification toward a common goal (motivated by a mutual interest). And what is the common “passion” that links our body and soul? God! Kabbalah explains that our physical needs/desires are nothing more then masks hiding a much deeper truth, that our all (our totality) needs God. You see, bodily passion in all of its forms, explains the holy Ba’al Shem Tov, is nothing more then an indicator as to where one’s spiritual mission lies. For example, a love of money (of accumulating wealth) has historically created a barrier to meaningful spiritual growth (hence, intensely spiritual people have renounced it). That being said, there is a story told of the holy Ari’zl, Rabbi Issac Luria, standing at attention before a wealthy man so as to give him honor. When questioned about his conduct, the Ari’zl explained that his standing before the wealthy individual was not, God forbid, to honor the wealth (the physical money itself) but, rather, its amazing potential - to fund houses of worship, educational institutions, and charitable programs focusing on a Godly objective! Hence, the physical passion for wealth and money need not be a spiritual antithesis, for its energy can become a “servant” of the soul (a useful tool to fulfill a Godly agenda). Explains the Ba’al Shem Tov, passions are nothing more then an indicator as to where man’s most valuable assets lie - which bodily powers/tools he can use to carry out the soul’s agenda - to build a Godly world. Be it the use of sexuality to bond (healthily) to one’s mate and build a family, or, the channeling of desire for food and drink toward honoring the Shabbat and festivals (by purchasing a rich assortment of meats, wines, and cakes for their honor), all passions can, potentially, be utilized for Divine service.

By fusing the needs of the body with that of the soul, we conquer “gravity,” the force pulling us downward toward a purely physical existence, and resolve their contradiction.

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Angel or animal?

Rabbi Gaines Angel or AnimalTwo thousand years ago the Great Sages made an astounding  observation: Animals tend to be built (structurally) facing the ground. Angels, in contrast, are described as facing upward, toward the heavens. Humans are the anomaly for they face neither downward toward the ground (like animals), nor upward toward the heavens (like angels), but only neutral - straight ahead. Why? Explain the Sages: because the human possesses choice; the choice to be as low as the animal or as high as the angel! Lesson? Life is about choices but from a Torah (Biblical) point of view there is really only one: Animal or angel? Which will we become? Will we elevate our physical consciousness  and choose a more spiritually refined  “angelic” existence, or, will we succumb to the conditioned “animal” within - our first unrectified nature? In the language of the Torah, “I have set before you (two paths), life and death, curses and blessings, choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Choose “life,” i.e. your higher angelic self!

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