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Thursday, 30 November, 2017 - 10:52 pm

A young Jew seeking spiritual enlightenment joined a particularly strict sect in a monastery. At his indoctrination, the head monk told him that they were sworn to TOTAL silence. However, every five years, they could speak two words. After the first five years, the head monk indicated it was now time for him to speak his two words. The Jewish kid said, “Food bad!” and resumed his silent meditation and study. After another 5 years, the head monk again indicated it was time for him to speak his two words.

The Jew said, “Bed Hard!” Then he resumed his silent study and meditation. Another 5 years passed and the head monk again indicated it was time for him to speak his two words. The Jew said, “I quit!”

The head monk shook his head and said, “I knew this was coming. You’ve done nothing but complain for the past 15 years!”

The beginning of this week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, tells how our forefather Jacob said, “I have become small by all the kindnesses... You have done for Your servant, for with my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.”

If I would shower you with kindness, wealth and blessing, would you feel small as a result? You might feel grateful, thankful, indebted; but why small? What did Jacob mean by this?

In 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of Chabad, was arrested on treason charges based on petitions to the Czar by opponents of him. It was a devastating moment. If he had been given capital punishment, heaven forbid, that would have been the end not only of Chabad, but of much of the Chassidic movement, as he was its chief defender, intellectual advocate, and most influential figure. After 53 days of imprisonment, he was exonerated of all charges and freed. The event—celebrated to this day on the 19th of Kislev, which falls out this year on Thursday, December 7—marked the victory of the Chassidic movement over its foes, and the onset of a new phase in the dissemination of Chassidic teaching.

Upon his release, Rabbi Schneur Zalman dispatched a short but extraordinarily powerful letter to his followers. He had suffered so much as a result of his opponents; they persecuted him and his followers even before the arrest. Then came the arrest and terrifying trial. Yet in this letter he warns his followers against feeling pride and superiority over their opponents as a result of their victory. He instructs them not to denigrate or tease them.

The Rebbe conveys a most fascinating and profound idea of what it means to be shown grace by G-d. What does it mean that G-d chooses someone? When you feel chosen over others, it can result in three emotions:

1) You may become arrogant or narcissistic, causing you to ignore others, or worse, mistreat them.

2) It can blind you from seeing your faults; the more pride you have, the less critical and honest you might be with yourself.

3) You cannot see that anything is greater than you.

These are all hazards for human civilization—which is why we loath the concept of being the “chosen people.” We stay away from it as much as we can.

But these results are true only if it is a human king who gives preferential treatment. When a mortal power shows favoritism towards a subject, that subject will become more arrogant as a result.

This is why we have an issue being the Chosen People. Our perception of G-d is somewhat pagan. We understand G-d to be the “big strong daddy who can beat yours up,” so if this mighty G-d chose me—Ha! It means I am awesome, and you are not.

But the true concept of Chosen is the opposite. In Judaism, G-d is the core of existence. We are all part of His reality. There is an organic oneness that unites all of humanity, all of the cosmos—and that organic unity is what we call G-d. "G-d is one" does not only mean there is one G-d and not 20 gods; it means G-d is synonymous with oneness. Saying the word "G-d" is like saying that “there is only One.” Oneness pervades all of existence. We are all reflections of one reality, one core. We are all manifestations—diverse expressions—of a singular reality.

Being conscious of G-d means never allowing your ego to wrap you in its superficial imagination. “Ego” stands for Easing G-d Out. When I do not realize my true greatness and value, as a reflection of G-d’s infinite oneness, I must resort to my ego to feel good about myself and to put you down. Becoming G-d-conscious means that at every moment I need not protect my ego, as I am completely comfortable with my true reality as an expression of Divine light. The more G-d conscious I am, the smaller I become. On one level I become nothing, as there is nothing but the organic oneness, the absolute infinity of G-d, which pervades all. At the same time, I become the greatest, as my life becomes a seamless expression of the higher, unifying, integrating, eternal consciousness of the eternal core of all reality.

The more you are aware that G-d’s light pervades every creature, the more loving you become.

The moment you become arrogant and feel superior to others in a way that you can denigrate, mistreat, and ignore them—you obviously are not feeling that you are chosen by G-d. If you did, you would realize that you are ONE WITH THE OTHER PERSON. You would recognize how much holiness exists in that person and love him or her sincerely.

This is the meaning of Chosen People: A nation of individuals who are able to sense G-d's closeness, hear His truth, and relay His message to the world.

Anyone can convert to Judaism and become chosen. Jewish chosen-ness is not a gene, it is a state of the soul. That is a Jew.

We have been chosen to teach every person that (s)he has been chosen to serve G-d and become an ambassador of light and goodness in His world.

This, explained Rabbi Schneur Zalman, was the hallmark of Jacob. This is what it means to think as a Jew. When you were blessed with a gift, when you were showered with a blessing—the first instinct of the Jew is: Why to me alone? Am I better than anyone else? It must be that G-d gave this to me to share with others, to bless others, to enrich others!

Jacob became humble as a result of G-d's kindness. With every kindness he felt the closeness of G-d, and the closer you are to G-d, the more humble you become, the less judgmental, the more loving and kind, and the more forgiving and compassionate.

Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once said: I learned the meaning of love from two drunks drinking I passed drinking in a gutter:

Drunk #1: “I love you!”

Drunk #2: “No, you don’t.”

Drunk #1: “Yes, I do. I love you with all my heart.”

Drunk #2: “No, you don’t. If you love me, why don’t you know what hurts me?”

Reb Levi Yitzchak was not only teaching us what love is; he was also teaching us what religion is. Being close to G-d means that you feel the presence of the Divine in all, and thus your heart overflows with love to all. You can truly sense what another is feeling, because you and He are really one.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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