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Rabbi Arthur Segal’s love of people, humanity, and Judaism has him sharing with others “The Wisdom of the Ages” that has been passed on to him. His writings for modern Jews offer Spiritual, Ethical, and eco-Judaic lessons in plain English and with relevance to contemporary lifestyles. He is the author of countless articles, editorials, letters, and blog posts, and he has recently published two books:

The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew


A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud

You can learn more about these books at:

Monday, March 7, 2011


 Jewish Spiritual Renewal: Derek Eretz Zuta + Rabbah:  Shabbat 03/12/11
(aka Derech Eretz )
The JEWISH SPIRITUAL RENEWAL class list is hosted by Shamash: The Jewish Network a service of Hebrew College/Yeshiva
Shalom my dear Chaverim, Talmidim, v' Rabbanim, friends, students and fellow rabbis:
An oneg, joy-filled, Shabbat, Sabbath, this weekend. We continue with our exploration into the Talmudic Tractates of Derek Eretz Zuta and Rabbah. (aka Derech Eretz Zuta, aka Derech Eretz Rabbah. As was mentioned, zuta is Aramaic for 'small', and rabbah is 'large'). Remember that Derek Eretz is not about Jewish ritual. It is about how we are to treat one another and what traits of character, middot, we are to try to develop. The lessons are universal and ecumenical.
From there you will find links to preceding classes in this series. 
So,  together we continue:
(aka Derech Eretz)
Talmud Bavli Tractate Derek Eretz Zuta Verse   1:6
OK. As I wrote in our last classes, before I show you the next verse from Talmud Bavli Tractate Derek Eretz Zuta Chapter One, which is verse 6 and the last verse of this chapter, let me advise you that it is a long one, and on first read can be a confusing one for those not intimately familiar with Jewish History, or the entire TaNaK, as well as Midrash.
I will guide you through it and it will open up some exciting doors for you, hopefully not an "Exit Door.''  ;-) .  As we have done in other long verses in this class, we will parse it sentence by sentence, or in some cases, by phrases or even words. This is the last verse in Chapter One.
''Love the Law, and respect it; love all creatures, and respect them.'' Subject your will to the will of others, as was done by Leah for Rachel and by David for Saul. But ignore your will, and even the will of others, for the will of Heaven, as we find by Jacob that he did not kiss Joseph (because he was engaged in prayer). Love doubtfulness (i.e., everything shall be doubtful to you until you convince yourself of it), and hate the expression: "And what of it?" (i.e., even of the most unimportant things you should not express yourself thus). Keep aloof from everything that may bring you to sin, and from the abominable, and from what is equal to it, that you should not be suspected by others of transgression. Do not slander your neighbor, because he who does so has no remedy. Keep aloof from grumbling, for by grumbling you may come to growl at others, and it will be added to your transgressions. With seven patriarchs covenants were made, and they are: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Pinchas, and David--Abraham [Gen. xv. 18], Isaac [ibid. xvii. 21], Jacob [Lev. xxvi. 421, Moses [Ex. xxxiv. 271, Aaron [Numb. xviii. 19], Pinchas [ibid. xxv. 12], David [Ps. lxxxix. 41. Seven patriarchs are resting in glory, and worm and maggot do not affect their earthly remains, and they are: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Amram their father, and, according to others, also David, as it is written [ibid. xvi. 9]: "Therefore is rejoiced my heart,and my spirit is glad; also my flesh shall rest in safety." Nine entered the Garden of Eden when they were still alive, and they are: Enoch (Chanoch) the son of Jared, Elijah Messiah, Eliezer the bondsman of Abraham, Hirom the king of Zor, Ebed-melech the Cushi [Jer. xxxviii. 7], and Jabetz the son of R. Jehudah the Prince, Bothiah the daughter of Pharaoh and Serech the daughter of Ascher, and, according to others, also R. Jehoshua b. Levi.''
Let us work only with this sixth sentence today: ''Keep aloof from grumbling, for by grumbling you may come to growl at others, and it will be added to your transgressions.  '' 
When we grumble and complain of our lot if life, either with some temporary set back, or how we are living in totality, we are living life as in an ingrate, and see the cup not only half empty, but actually see it empty. We are Godless and only call upon God to damn Him.
And as we have learned, when we are disconnected spiritually, we become disconnected from our fellows as well. Hence we will soon be complaining about the people in our lives...our parents, spouses , friends, children, employers, co-workers, employees, teachers, students, the mail delivery person and the wait staff. The list becomes endless because it starts with God who is Infinite.
When we have the negative attitude of ''what have you done for me lately?'', we are on a slippery slope. When we start to complain about others, hatred and/or jealousy ensues. And in either case, bad human relations develop. We covet and this can lead to us actually stealing or harming another.
And it all stems from us thinking we are not getting our  way, or perhaps we have not been given enough. Either we exist thinking we had something and it was taken away, or we wanted something and we did not get it. And we grumble and complain.
So we need to learn to develop a true attitude of gratitude. We need to go thru our day thanking God for everything that happens to us. Our meals, our friends, our jobs, or health, our family, so when we get that flat annoying tire that makes us late and costs us an unexpected expense, we can laugh, as we know that is one 'off' thing that happened out of 1000 good things that day. Further we can thank God that we were able to pull the car over and not have the flat crash us into a tree.
Basically, this continually giving thanks, is about "Learning to Pray." This is not an overnight process and prayer is something that one never fully masters. Prayer is how we speak to God and to the spark of God within us. God is listening and there really is no wrong way to talk to God, as long as it is done sincerely.
We can divide prayer into three types; blessings of thanksgiving, entreaties, and self-judgment. Blessings of thanksgiving are called beracoth, which comes from the root word meaning to bend the knee. Entreaties are called bakashah, which comes from the root for the Hebrew word "please." Self-judgment prayers are called tephila, which comes, appropriately enough, from the root words to self-judge. 
It is these beracoth, these blessings of thanksgiving, that help us develop an attitude of gratitude and see the world as a cup running over with God's beneficence.    
Jews, like Daniel, even into the time of the Babylonian exile, prayed on their knees. They continued to do so when the exile was over and some returned to Jerusalem with Ezra. We also read that Solomon dedicated his Temple "kneeling down in the presence of all the multitude of Israel, and lifting up his hands towards Heaven." (2 Chronicles 6:13 and 1 Kings 8:54).
"I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands to the Lord my God." (Ezra 9:5). "Opening the windows in his upper chamber towards Jerusalem, he knelt down three times a day, and adored, and gave thanks before his God, as he had been accustomed to do before." (Dan. 6:10).
You won't find many Jews praying on their knees today. We stopped kneeling when our Christian breakaway brothers continued to do so. We do bend the knee and bow when standing during certain parts of the synagogue service. The reason we kneel or bow our head is that we are praying to the King of all humanity. Would you have the chutzpah to stay seated if the President of the United States walked into the room? Of course not. In a courtroom do you not stand when the bailiff orders, "All rise!" as the judge takes the bench? Of course you do. Yet for God, so many people are content to remain seated, denying His existence as their King and their Judge.  
Ironically the Hebrew root of the word beracoth is the same root for bending the knee. 
Such a dearth of reverence does not lend itself to spirituality and a relationship with God. So whether you bend a knee and bow your head, or pray on your knees, pick a posture that you would only give to a supreme ruler, unto whom you trust your life.
King David said that we should be so spiritual we should be blessing God at least 100 times a day (Talmud Tractate Bavli Menachot 43A). He meant that we should bless God throughout the day for not only our meals, but for the singing birds, our first breath in the morning, our health, our friends, all of the beauty in the world, and the list goes on. He was talking about an attitude of gratitude as the name Jew, Yahudee, meaning "grateful," suggests.
The Talmud takes David's idea and makes a list of the ritually-ordained prayers for traditional Jews, of which there are about 20 just for saying grace after three meals, so there are 60 blessings right off the bat. Another 40 come from three daily prayer services and others prayed throughout the day, like when we wash hands, awake in the morning and so forth.
In Jewish Spiritual Renewal, while it is a grand idea to learn the prayers developed by our sages and set forth in the first book of Talmud (Beracoth), the sages teach that one should not learn them by rote. Instead we should use the prayer book as a starting point from which to pray to God in your own words with true intention. True spiritual intention is called "kavenah." (Talmud Bavli Tractate Beracoth 5a).
It is not kavenah to mumble through a motzi, the prayer thanking God for bread, without true reflection on what you are saying. It is kavenah, and it is Jewish, to thank God in your own words, from your heart and soul, for the meal you're about to eat, and for the friends and family gathered around you. The Talmud, in Beracoth, further teaches that it is better to pray in a language you understand than in one you don't. This is not an excuse to drop Hebrew study, but the sages are trying to express that prayer is a personal communication between you and God. Kavenah is not found in the words, but in the honesty behind the words.
Praying with true intention will make you feel grateful for all of God's gifts. Your cup will no longer look half full or half empty. You will see it as overflowing. When you thank God throughout the day for everything, even the littlest things, that you have, it will become clear to you how rich you really are. Those times when you don't get what you want will seem insignificant by comparison and you will be less likely to be upset.
Here is a short list beracoth of thanksgiving that you can start today to add to your prayer routine. The actual prayers are in most siddurim, but can also we found in the chapter "Learning how to Pray" in The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew
Upon waking, we thank God for restoring us.
Upon hand washing, we thank God.
Before eating a meal that has bread and before eating a meal that has no bread, we thank God.
Before drinking wine or grape juice, we thank God. Before eating fruit we thank God. Before eating other produce, like a yam, we thank God.
Before eating other foods not mentioned, like a candy bar, we thank God. After eating, we say the prayer  known as the Birkat Ha Mazon , to thank God for our meal along with other thanks. 
Many of us call our synagogues or rabbis when we are ill for a blessing of request for healing. But how many of us thank God when we are healed, with the Gomel blessings? Rabbi Arthur Segal: RABBI ARTHUR SEGAL: BERACHA HA GOMEL: JEWISH PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING  or
Notice all of these prayers, except the Gomel prayer, are meant to be said in the home (or perhaps a restaurant). None are synagogue service prayers. These are blessings of gratitude to be incorporated into your daily life so that you begin to build a relationship and a personal experience with God.
Get used to thanking God for everything. Believe it or not, we even have a prayer to say after we move our bowels. Talmud Bavli Tractate Beracoth 60b reads: "Rabbi Abayei said, 'when one comes out of a privy he should say, Blessed is He who has formed man in wisdom and created in him many orifices and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your throne of glory that if one of them were to be ruptured or one of them blocked, it would be impossible for a man to survive and stand before You. Blessed are You that heals all flesh and does wonders.'" This prayer may produce a chuckle or two, especially from children, but think about someone who has a serious gastrointestinal or prostate problem. Something that used to come so naturally can become a very painful experience. That person would say this prayer of gratitude with true kavenah.
As I mentioned earlier, you do not have to recite your prayers word-for-word as written. For example there is even a prayer to say when you see a rainbow, but you might find it more spiritually uplifting to say, "Far out God, that is just beautiful! Thank you!" Remember, it's kavenah that counts, not words. If you ran inside to Google the appropriate rainbow sighting prayer, the rainbow might be gone by the time you find the prayer.
By the way, the reason we have a rainbow prayer is that the rainbow is sign of a God's promise to Noah that he would never flood the Earth again. Here it is for your information:
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, zokher haberit vene'eman bivrito v'kaiyam bema'amaro.
Praised are you Adonai, our God, Sovereign of the world, Who remembers the covenant, who keeps the promise, and fulfills God's word.
Basically, just get used to talking to God as your loving, giving Parent. And avoid grumbling about Him which eventually  will lead you to grumble about your fellows. Remember the adage from Talmud Bavli Tractate Pirkei Avot 4:1 : "Who is rich? One who is happy with what he has.''
Next week, Baruch ha Shem, we will continue with more of verse 6:1 of Derek Eretz Zuta.
We discuss the aspects of this verse of Derek Eretz Zuta  of gratitude  throughout the majority of chapters in  The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew  as well as in most chapters of A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud  .
What are your ideas about leading a life when you do not complain?  How has learning to live a spiritual life helped you with understanding that God is giving us all that we need and our cups are continually running over? How has understanding the spiritual and ethical teachings of Judaism and living a life with an attitude of gratitude helped you live a happier life?
Next class, Baruch ha Shem, we will continue with Derek Eretz Zuta,  continuing  with more of the 6th verse of Chapter One. Thank you for joining me.  
Rabbi Arthur Segal 
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