Chag Sameach

Today I want to tell you the last words of a holy CHossid and righteous man on his death bed.

This man was a person who spent his life focused on holy things. Not like the story of Marty Friedman who was on his deathbed and looks around and asks, is my beautiful wife Goldie here.
“Yes my darling, don’t worry I am here with you”
Is my oldest son Jason here.
Yes father, I am here with you together. Don’t worry.
Is your brother Fred here?
Yes father I am standing right next to you holding your hand.
And what about my precious Devorah, is she also here?
Yes father we are all here with you. You can relax now.
Hearing that the father jump0s up and asks “I don’t understand .if you are all her, who is watching the store!”

But this Rabbi, this holy man was very different. As he is surrounded by his kids he tells them “You should know Ich hub Gehat a shvere leben” meaning I had a difficult life.
The son turns to his father and says “Don’t say that you had a bad life, look at what you accomplished, look at the family you raised, look at the community you inspired..
And the father responds “You didn’t understand.  I said I had a “difficult life”, not a bad life, not a bitter life – it was just challenging. It was rewarding, productive and fulfilling. I don’t regret one second of it.

But only because I didn’t allow the challenges and difficulties to define me, to pull me down, did I accomplish all that I have.
My sons, my precious children, life probably won’t be easy. Great things are not accomplished by people with easy lives. But I was able to do all I did because I never allowed the “shverkait” the bitterness to make me bitter or disillusioned.

 

I would venture to say that every person in this room has some emotional challenges and some deep challenges with how we perceive the lives we live, and the world we inhabit.

Of course, there are the obvious challenges like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger and resentment etc. that are obvious emotional deficiencies that destroy our ability to be happy, productive people. We all understand and recognize the glaring personality disorders that need to be worked on.

But I would imagine that most of us in this room don’t view ourselves as emotionally damaged goods. Many of us don’t view ourselves as having “issues” but that might be because we suffer from an emotional numbness. We go thru life like zombies, like pre-programmed robots just doing what we need to do to get thru the day, but without any feeling, joy or emotional connection to what they are doing.

Even those in this room who consider themselves “positive thinking, optimistic, kind and generous people who always see the good in every opportunity … also have their own moments of emotional turbulence.

For example, how many people here have done something good, something kind or generous, but then felt inauthentic and squirmed inside while we were being praised for something we didn’t feel deserved so much praise? Or where we suffer from “imposter syndrome” where we doubt our own accomplishments, and instead of internalizing our success we fear being exposed as a fraud and fake.

Or how many here have a deep feeling of shame for some action or past that they keep trying to hide and mask with their bubbly smiles and generous behavior because they have not found a way to deal with their inner shame or inadequacies?

Does anyone here suffer from guilt? I do.

Point is that there are many forms of emotional negativity expressing itself and creeping into our thoughts, and even into our actions.

So how do we change ourselves in this New Year. Of course it would be simple to say some Facebook cliché like Change your glasses change your life or “Just think good and it will be good” or ….

But easier said than done….

And the truth is that there is no one sermon that will change your life forever. It’s a life long journey that is full of unexpected roadblocks, and speed bumps (oh how I hate speedbumps. J

But speedbumps don’t only exist in gated communities where people don’t want crazy drivers like me speeding by, but they also exist in life.

JOKE. Change must come from within ….

But there is a place where you can find all the tools you need, all the guides and directions for the life long journey called change.

It’s called the Torah. Now I know many of you have a hard time believing that.
In the mindset of many devoted and dedicated Jews today, the Torah is a beautiful manuscript of ancient values and mystical messages. Others view it as a technical rule book that teaches how to keep Shabbos and how to keep kosher.

But if you have REAL problems, you know problems with your wife, with your kids, problems with your boss, problems with your ability to control your response to situations that make you nervous or your ability to control yourself from speaking bad about someone else… that I need to go to a therapist or psycho analyst …

All psycho analysts are Jews with the one exception of Carl Jung (the one token gentile) – you know why? Because only Jews need psycho analysts J

But I will prove it.

Close your eyes and point north…..

Now, everyone extend your arm and point north. Keep your eyes closed and point in whatever direction you think is North. 

Wait for everyone to point and watch the confusion J

Now open your eyes.

Now you know why our ancestors wandered in the desert for 40 years…it’s genetic.  

Friends, that direction is north, “True North,” it's always the same, it never changes.  If we had a compass it would tell us that way is North. Every compass in the world will tell you the very same thing.   

That’s what Torah is. It’s our moral and spiritual compass. Just as there is true North — a constant, objective reality outside of ourselves which never changes — so too, there are eternal moral and spiritual principles which never change and are revealed in the Torah.

You may ask: if G‑d had not instructed us in these principles, would we not find answers on our own? We would. That’s the problem. It’s not that we would lack answers; but like our true North experiment, we would have too many answers. We would arrive at a situation of moral chaos in which everybody points in different directions.  

Friends, Torah’s compass has guided our ancestors.  It gave them a strong sense of identity, dignity, and direction. It is the source from which the world has drawn the great ideals of the sanctity of life, justice, and equality before the law and much more.

For happiness, for success, and for meaning, you need a moral compass to navigate life. When you study Torah, that is what you get. 

These gifts of Torah won’t make a small difference in your life — they will make all the difference. They are all part of the remarkable algorithm that has lifted the Jewish people over the jagged rocks of history to great joyous heights and made us a people of eternity. All you have to do is search.  

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Promo for new course coming up called Worrier to Warrior. Deal with all these issues……

But even if you won’t come to the course I want to leave you with one thought. Don’t be embarrassed of the beauty of the Torah.

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Want to tell you the strange story of the lost Poussin.
Nicolas Poussin was the foremost exponent and practitioner of seventeenth-century Classicism.

Ernest Onians was born on August 14th, 1904 in Liverpool. He was the youngest of 6, and his immediate elder brother Frank, with whom he was close friends as a young man, was my grandfather. After working together as salesmen selling animal food in East Anglia, Ernie recognized a huge business opportunity – taking waste food at the back door of London restaurants and turning it into pig food which he would process at his mill in Suffolk and then sell to the farmers. He was very successful, a ladies man, and became wealthy.

As he traveled around Suffolk he became interested in art and to educate himself he read extensively, subscribed to art magazines and developed an eye for beautiful things. During and after the War many large houses were being forced to sell their paintings and furniture because of death, taxation and the poor economic situation in the country. As my cousin John wrote “during the ‘forties and early fifties’ he visited many a house sale and county auction, bidding – or more frequently leaving bids – for literally thousands of objects

But sadly, although married for a while, he became a hoarder and a miser. He collected so many pieces that he filled up his house and three sheds in his garden with paintings stacked vertically in dirty conditions.

One day one of the sheds burned down. As a result of the fire Ernie did ask his nephews for help to get a review of his pictures. Christies came to the Mill for 2 days and told Ernie and his nephews that there were 7 paintings that should be fully researched before they were sold.

But as is so often the case, his treasures obsessed him. Arguments erupted about what was going to be in his Will and Ernie decided he did not want anyone to get the benefit of his treasures after he died.

As a result, when Ernie died at age 90 in 1994 the paintings were not researched and his executors gave the sale of the estate to Sotheby’s.

Sir Denis Mahon, spotted a photograph of one painting of the collection the size of a large postage stamp in the catalogue that said it was “Attributed to Pietro Testa” as The Sack of Carthage and estimated to fetch £10,000-15,000.

Sir Dennis realized that there was a Menorah in the painting. What would a Menorah be doing in Carthage? …. Realized wasn’t that…

Bought it for 150,000 pounds and then proved hishunch was right and that it was actually the glorious masterpiece the Destruction and Sack of The Temple of Jerusalem. Painted by Nicholas Poussin in Rome in 1625-1626, it had been commissioned by the Pope’s nephew Cardinal Barberini as a gift for Cardinal Richelieu!

He then turned around and sold it to Jacob Rothschild for a whopping £4.5M!!

They then donated it to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem where it is now the pride of the museum.

This work from his early Italian period (1625-1626) was commissioned by Poussin’ patron Cardinal Francesco Barberini, nephew and secretary of Pope Urban VIII, and was offered as a gift to Cardinal Richelieu, the French head of state. Barberini led a papal legation in a vain attempt to reconcile France and Spain, at the time engaged in a bloody war. Classical Roman architecture and sculpture provided sources for Poussin’s painting. The scene seems to be a Roman city: the soldiers’ dress is taken from reliefs on Roman sarcophagi; the facade of the Temple resembles that of the Pantheon; the figure of Titus was inspired by the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline; and the menorah derives from the famous depiction on the Arch of Titus. After Richelieu’s death, the painting was inherited by his niece, who then sold it. It changed hands many times and eventually reached England. Its whereabouts were unknown from the late 1700s until 1995, when it was rediscovered by the art historian Sir Denis Mahon, restored to its original state, and donated to the Israel Museum in 1998.

 

Beautiful story because the picture showing destruction of Jerusalem, now hangs in Israel museum as testament to its rebirth.

But there is another very valuable message here.

We have an unbelievably valuable and special treasure. ‘Like the true north, it never falters’…

Sad how many don’t appreciate the unbelievable treasure we have been gifted.

Let us live by the torah… it is the owner’s manual, handwritten by the Creator of the Universe, by G‑d Himself…

Like the pure sound of the shofar it is forever.