Perhaps one of the most common excuses that have been uttered since the beginning of human history has been: “I got unlucky” or “It’s not my fault, it was bad luck”. But what is Luck? How can we define it or measure it? To what extent does it have an impact on our lives?
In our conventional thinking and everyday lingo, Luck is generally regarded as “good fortune which occurs beyond one’s control, without regard to one’s will, intention, or desired result”. Let’s take a deeper look at this general definition by turning to Hebrew and its ancient linguistic insights for clues as to the word’s meaning, purpose, and effect.
Contrary to what you might think, Luck does not actually have a Hebrew counterpart with the same meaning. This language does not seem to fully acknowledge that Luck, in our general sense of the word, really exists. Instead it uses another word to account for external influences which seemingly operate beyond our control.
That word is MaZaL (מזל), and its closest etymological connection is linked to the stars and constellations. Despite the fact that constellations and Luck may seem unrelated, there is an important message conveyed by this word that has the capacity to transform our perspective on the controllability of Luck.
According to the early Sages, MaZaL was actually an acronym of the three words “Makom” (“מקום”, Place/Location), “Zeman” (“זמן”, Time), and “Limmud” (“לימוד”, Learning). Pursuant to the Hebrew interpretation, Luck is a function of Time, Place, and Learning. We all know that time and place have huge impacts on us that are clearly beyond our control. For example, none of us can change where we were born, to whom we were born, or what era and time we were born. Those matters are out of our control and have influences on us beyond our will and intention.
But why is Learning a function of the MaZaL sequence?
Although we can’t control many things affecting our time and place, we can control our learning. What we learn, how much we learn, and how we learn is in our hands. The ability to take charge of our learning will give us the power to get the best out of our assigned time and location. After all, no matter how strong of a poker hand you are dealt, how you play your cards is entirely up to you. You can take a pair of aces and run them to the ground, or play an off suite subpar hand and win.
The lesson here is that although there are many elements in life that are simply beyond us and are entirely outside of our realm of control, we are, in effect, still fully in control because we control one main component of Luck: learning and knowledge. It is this learning which also ultimately gives us the power to change our location and deal with our time constraints. With this understanding, we become almost fully in control of our own Luck.
When we accept the principle that something beyond our control has a definitive influence on us, we are more likely to use it as the scapegoat for our problems and as a barrier to our future growth. However, when we realize that we have control over one aspect of our Luck, we can take comfort in knowing that “I got lucky” should really be changed to “I am lucky”.
As Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur approach, we are left with one choice guiding us: learn from our mistakes, and make a better impact with the time and place G-d has chosen to give us. Happy New Year!
Six Mindful Eating Tips for Your Body and Soul
The average person spends at least one hour a day eating. So by the age of 30, you’ve spent the equivalent of two years just putting food in your mouth. How can we make this a more pleasurable, productive and meaningful experience?
Traditional Jewish thought has much to say about what we eat, how we eat, when we eat, and even why we eat, and much of it is also recommended by modern scientists.
- Eat Hungry.
When was the last time you pulled over at a gas station to fill up your tank that was already full? Probably never. However, when was the last time you ate something when you weren’t hungry?
Checking your hunger gauge before popping in that random bite will allow you to keep your weight in check as well as build your self-control.
Going to your second event of the evening, already fed, and still have an urge to pop down some more food? Like the modern day nutritionists, King Solomon advises against the unnecessary consumption of food, saying “The righteous eat to satisfy their souls” (Proverbs 13:25).
- Sit Down.
Late to work? Running after the kids? Doing errands? No problem–it’s just not the best time to be chomping down your meal. Although it may save time, it’s a bad idea. The Talmud uses harsh terminology against those who eat while standing. The Rambam, in his magnum opus Mishneh Torah, says that one should never stand or walk while eating.
Modern day scientific research also claims that this kind of eating is fattening and unhealthy. In fact, there is even a diet based on this understanding, called ‘The Sit-Down Diet’, which suggests that we consume fewer calories when we eat sitting down versus while standing up or walking. We are also more likely to digest food better when we sit down and chew our food properly.
You’re hungry and sitting down to your meal, now recognize where the food comes from. Taking three seconds to acknowledge basic details of the culinary dish placed before you can set the tone for rest of the meal. Something as simple as verbally acknowledging the work of the cook, especially if it is a parent or spouse, can have a profound effect on your mood. Paying attention to all of the individual ingredients can make the experience even more tasty.
On a deeper level, every time any food is consumed, Jewish sources tell us one should recite a blessing of recognition prior to taking the first bite. A common misconception is that the blessing or bracha that is said before eating is a form of thanksgiving. This is not accurate; while the after-blessing of Birkat Hamazon clearly mentions the act of thanksgiving, the initial blessing makes no mention of thanks. It is a statement acknowledging that God is the Creator of the food (Blessed are you Hashem … Creator of ….).
- Remove Distractions
Imagine our reaction to someone in a movie theater who is on their phone half of the time. Would we have the same reaction to the ever-so-common sight of someone munching down an entire meal while consumed with an iPhone, TV or computer screen? One cannot fully enjoy a meal while answering emails or scrolling through their Facebook newsfeed.
Unlike many other religions whose ordinances promote abstinence from physical pleasures, Judaism incorporates the pleasure of eating in every one of its holidays. However, we rob ourselves of this enjoyment every time we mindlessly eat.
Don’t care about enjoyment? Distracted eating causes your digestion to be less effective in breaking down your food, leading to less flavor and increasing the possibility of bloating, gas and constipation. Trying to lose weight? Research shows that the more you distract yourself during a meal, the more pounds you add. Doing simple acts of mindfulness, such as paying attention to the smell, taste, appearance and texture of the food, can keep the focus on your meal.
- Chew, Swallow, Wait… Repeat.
Ever mindlessly wolf down a meal in one minute? Scarfing down an entire meal can leave you feeling disheartened, but it can also leave you with unwanted extra fat on your hips.
Taking your body off of autopilot mode while feasting has great spiritual benefits as well. In describing ways of going against animalistic eating habits, the great nineteenth-century Iraqi sage Rabbi Yosef Hayim, in his famous book, Ben Ish Hai, gives a recommendation that is sure to slow your scarf. He writes that one should not reach for the next bite until the previous bite has been completely swallowed.
Speaking from experience, this one tip is much easier said than done. However, once mastered, this habit is sure to leaving you feeling in control and elevated, especially if you take it to the next level and put down your utensil between bites.
Now that you’re satiated and your spirit is recharged, it’s time for some thanksgiving (without the turkey). Saying thanks is much harder when you have somewhere else you want to go. Maybe that’s why the only biblically ordained blessing is the Grace After Meals and not the blessing before the meal (Deuteronomy 8:10).
Being appreciative is a core Jewish value. In fact, Jews are called Yehudim from the word L’hodot, or to thank. Messages of appreciation are found in the stories of our forefathers and foremothers. Gratitude permeates the entire Jewish experience, from the first words that are uttered by our lips when we wake up in the morning, “Modeh Ani”, to the thrice-daily communal prayer service throughout the day.
Surprisingly, recently discovered side benefits of gratitude include improved health, increased self-esteem and even better sleep. Taking the extra minutes to appreciate our privileged satiated stomachs should now seem more meaningful and hopefully a little easier.
Although not practical for every meal, striving towards these goals should help us lead more meaningful, in-control and healthy lives. For what it is worth, I will personally vouch for it!
Why Are We in Mourning?
We are in a period called “The Three Weeks of Mourning,” culminating to “Tisha B’Av,” literally translated as the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, which is the greatest mourning day of the Jewish year. Never heard of it before? Don’t worry, neither had I. That’s part of why we are mourning. Officially, on Tisha B’Av, we are mourning the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. But through the years, the holiday has taken on additional meaning.
I didn’t know what the Kotel, or Western Wall, actually was until I saw it on my first trip to Israel when I was 19 years old. The Kotel is a part of the foundation of the Western Wall of the Second Temple, which the Jews built in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago. It is a remnant of Jerusalem’s former glory, when G-d’s presence openly rested on this holy site. The site of the First and Second Temples is the same place where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, and where Jacob dreamed of the ladder. It is the direction to which Jews face when they pray, wherever they are in the world. It is the main pipeline where all the prayers are collected and ascend to be answered. It is the interface between G-d and humanity on earth, and this is why Jerusalem is one of the most fought over pieces of land in history.
Unfortunately, the Jews have been kicked out of Jerusalem several times. The Babylonians drove us out and destroyed the First Temple and then the Romans kicked us out and destroyed the Second Temple, bringing us into our current 2,000-year-old exile.
Yet, is not the Babylonians or the Romans who did anything on their own. G-d used them as the conduits to our exile because we were not fitting as a nation to merit His presence in the Holy Temple during those times. In the time of the First Temple, we were engaged in idol worship and baseless hatred of each other. During the Second Temple, we were exiled again because we didn’t learn our lesson and continued to treat each other improperly.
So today, we are reduced to praying to a remnant of the foundation of the Temple to beg for the redemption, when a Third Temple will finally be rebuilt. You might be thinking, “But we have the state of Israel; how could we be in exile?” While we do have a Jewish state, we still do not have a Temple, which means that G-d has abandoned his home on earth, so to speak. As a result, G-d’s presence is more hidden. One manifestation of G-d’s hiddenness is that sometimes we see things perfectly clearly and meant to be, while at other times we are plagued with doubt and confusion.
Still, I find myself thinking, what would reality be like if we were not in exile, if G-d’s presence was fully revealed? I imagine it would be easier to connect to G-d because of a clearer distinction between right and wrong. We are so disconnected from our history as a people that we can’t really relate to a world with a Temple. We are so deep in exile that we don’t even realize we are in exile. This, I once heard Rabbi Doniel Katz say, is part of why we mourn this time of year.
What Can We Do About It?
The true Temple is not the Temple in Jerusalem, but the Temple in the heart of man. When G-d told the Jews to build Him the Mishkan (the temporary Temple in the desert before the Jews entered Israel), He said, “I will dwell within them,” instead of “ within it,” meaning G-d will dwell within the hearts of man, rather than in the Mishkan. From this we understand that the Temples in Jerusalem were external instruments of the inner Temple of our hearts. Thus, when our hearts became corrupted, the outer temples were destroyed as a reflection of that. This principle, of an external, physical reality reflecting internal, spiritual reality, is a recurring theme in Jewish thought. The rebuilding of the third and final Temple in Jerusalem is dependent on the rebuilding of the Temple in our own hearts.
This time of year, we need to think: are we part of the problem or part of the solution? Do we engage in the very behavior that put us into exile in the first place? Do we commit idol worship by worshipping ourselves and our desires above all else? This is 21st century idolatry. For instance, I find myself thinking about this as I debate whether to spend my money on charity or on a new item that I want, but don’t need. What about baseless hatred? Do we talk badly about anyone? Or do we try to see the good in all people and give them the benefit of the doubt?
We need to “step it up” as a nation so that we can merit G-d’s revealed presence in Jerusalem once again. I once heard my Rebbetzin tell her children that every little gesture of trying to reconnect to our spiritual heritage builds another brick in the wall of the Third Temple. We should merit to be those builders.
The Contradiction of Faith
To an outsider, the lives of faithful Jews can seem to contradict many tenets of our faith. We pray that Hashem provide us with our needs, but then we are obsessed with gathering great wealth. We proclaim that He is the King of kings, but then we agonize over who will be the next President. We believe that He has full control of Nature, but then we seek shelter during natural disasters. We understand that that He is our all-powerful Guardian, and then we constantly worry about our enemies that seek to destroy us.
Are these just things we say, and not actually believe? Or are we not as devout as we should be? From a simple understanding of Judaism’s core statements of faith, one might surmise that in fact we are living contradictory lives. Maybe we should not pursue our careers, get involved with politics, or even attempt to protect our safety. After all, if Hashem really can take care of all of our needs, why should we worry about them?
A simple perusal of the earliest Jewish texts would paint a totally different picture of Man’s role in this world. One has to simply look at the stories in our Holy Torah to shatter the idea of an ideal world full of pious believers who sit passively against Man’s struggles in an effort to testify their faith in The Lord.
If, because of our faith, we should not work so hard, why was Adam commanded to work the Garden of Eden and subsequently do it by the “sweat of his brow”?
If we are supposed to simply have faith and accept natural disasters because God must be “punishing us,” why did Sarah and Avraham ironically escape the ‘blessed’ land that was struck by famine?
If in our service of God, we are supposed to stay away from politics, why would Joseph miraculously become arguably one of the most politically powerful men on the planet? And why would Mordechai, Esther, and so many Sages of Talmud be so intimately involved with governmental matters?
If all God wants from us is to beg of Him to help us, when stuck between Egypt’s advanced army and the Sea of Reeds, why was Moses asked to stop his passionate prayer and march forward?
Since we believe in an All-Powerful being, we will never come to fully understand why certain struggles come our way. However, from the stories above, one thing is certain; it is our duty to do our part in addressing the struggles in a practical, and most logical way possible, regardless of whether we understand the reasons behind those struggles or not.
In dealing with the above duality, I propose the believing person have two parallel thoughts when considering the relationship between Man, God and our actions. On the one hand, we must believe that Hashem has the potential to control every single thing in this world and we can potentially sit back and let Him run the show. On the other hand, we are given the opportunity to do every single thing in our power to better this world and strive to have an active role in that same show. In this light, we see that we can be an active partner with Creator of the universe to carry out his revealed mission and show exactly how much “in His Image” we truly are.
With any duality, a delicate balance is required to prevent us from going down either extreme. At what point does our inaction and acceptance of perceived “will” of God become a stumbling block to our true calling? And more importantly, at what point does our concern for worldly affairs detract from our Religious duty of faith and acceptance of Hashem’s will?
Perhaps the metric to finding this equilibrium is a combination of two very sought after, but very difficult life ingredients; a healthy, unadulterated, understanding of personal potential along with the wisdom and foresight to understand what is truly “good” for this world. With these two elements in hand, one can begin an introspective dialogue with oneself to begin to address the seeming contradiction that we speak of.
Yes! I am going to recognize and use all of my God-given resources to address the struggles that come my way to bring goodness into this world and attempt to block any evil that I face. In my attempt to provide for myself, my family, and those less fortunate than me I will work as hard as I can to make a living. In my concern for worldly affairs I will lobby my congressperson, get out the vote, and do everything in my power not to empower those that want to wipe me off the map. In my effort to keep my family safe, I will take every precaution I see fit to protect them from harm.
But wait! All this comes with one caveat. I understand that when I am done doing whatever I am capable of doing, I will be neither depressed nor frightened of uncertainties that lie ahead. I also understand that when I have finished doing whatever I think needs my attention, I will be neither haughty nor gleeful for what I have accomplished. Rather, I will raise my hands towards Heaven and pray that my actions were of pure motivation, my calculations of what really is “good” were correct, and that I gave over my true potential, nothing more and nothing less.
I will close with a saying from Jewish Sage, Rabbi Tarfon, in the Ethics of Our Fathers, when speaking about Man’s relationship with the proverbial Owner of this world.
רַבִּי טַרְפוֹן אוֹמֵר, הַיּוֹם קָצֵר וְהַמְּלָאכָה מְרֻבָּה… וְהַשָּׂכָר הַרְבֵּה, וּבַעַל הַבַּיִת דּוֹחֵק …לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמוֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה :
Rabbi Tarfon said: The day is short, the work is much…. the reward is great, and the owner is pressing…It is not your responsibility to finish the work, neither are you free to desist from it.
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