Rabbi Deborah J. Brin  Jewish Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling ©2017 Rabbi Deborah J. Brin — Member: Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin Albuquerque, New Mexico  Jewish Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling
Rabbi’s Reflections

Changing the Channel: To Fargin — Rosh HaShannah

5776/2015

Monday, 14 September 2015   Rabbi Deborah J. Brin In some ways I’m good at helping other people because when I need help I seek it from people I trust. I got some advice last summer. I was at a low ebb energetically and spiritually and desperately needed to replenish and rejuvenate before I returned to work in mid-July. The advice I received was that it was time for me to do a personal retreat, a hermitage. I found a one-room place with a kitchenette and a bathroom on the Pecos River. I’ve been on meditation retreats but I’d never done anything like this before – I was going to be alone, on an introspective journey, for five days and six nights. I brought things that I thought I would need – prayer books, a journal, music, books that I hoped would inspire me, my tallis and t’filin, and some recordings of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, zaycher Tzadik livracha, our teacher and the founder of Jewish Renewal. One of the books that I brought with me is called Hardwiring Happiness by a neurologist named Rick Hanson. He talks in his book about “red brain” and “green brain”. The green brain is when we are safe, happy, connected, calm, and content. The red brain is when all systems are on red alert, we feel threatened in some way, triggered, frightened, stressed out and quarrelsome. [p.32 – 56]. Hanson’s book describes in detail that our brains our designed to have a “negativity bias”. We actually perceive things that are negative more easily than things that are positive. Our ancient forbears had to learn quickly about what animal or situation posed a deadly threat. Our survival was at stake, and so we biologically fast-tracked negative experiences so that we could learn from them and stay alive. As Hanson says, “our ancestors could make two basic kinds of mistakes: thinking there was a tiger in the bushes when there wasn’t one, and thinking that there was no tiger in the bushes when there actually was one. The cost of the first mistake was needless anxiety, while the cost of the second one was death. Consequently, we evolved to make the first mistake a thousand times to avoid making the second mistake once.” It’s as if our brains have Velcro for difficult, painful, negative and stressful events. These sorts of negative experiences become embedded in our neurological system quickly and easily, because of our need to survive. Safety, security, pleasure, comfort, enough delicious food, fun, and enjoyment are important experiences and create positive emotional states. It turns out that since these states and experiences are not vital for our moment-to-moment survival, they don’t get hard-wired into our rapid response system. If we have Velcro for negative experiences, then the opposite is true for pleasurable ones. We’ve got Teflon for positive feelings and experiences. [pp 21-27]. It turns out that we are not physiologically structured to hold onto our yummy feelings. What lousy news is that! No wonder achieving and maintaining a sense of hope, equanimity, gratitude, compassion or joy are such huge spiritual challenges. Lest you dive deep into a sense of despondency over the news that we are hardwired for negative emotions and experiences like fear, anxiety, dread, frustration, prejudice, dissatisfaction, disappointment and depletion — there is hope! Positive emotional states and experiences can become a part of our neurological system, too. This is probably the most important piece of information in Hanson’s book. We can actually remodel our own brains and tilt our experiences toward the positive. We can make choices that will result in rewiring our neurological systems and therefore our responses to everything inside us and around us. What do we do to become inherently more positive? We need to notice good things or feelings when they are happening, focus on them and then really feel them and enjoy them long enough [about 5-10 seconds] for our brains to notice and lay down new neural pathways. Choose to notice what’s positive and let it soak in for 5 – 10 seconds. That’s the length of one long, deep inhale and exhale. Like most spiritual wisdom, this sounds simple and is hard to remember to do. My five-day hermitage was wonderful and it was hard. The first two days were delightful and rejuvenating. I davened, meditated, went for walks, lay down on the grass by the river, and tried to draw the hummingbirds at the feeder. The third day was the hardest. I really needed to change the channel, change what I was thinking and feeling, and get into a different space. I listened to some recordings of Reb Zalman, zaycher Tzadik livracha. Zalman mentioned two different practices from our tradition that can help us change the channel on our interior states. The first practice is that we should remember to look with a benevolent eye at other people, our surroundings, and ourselves. The second practice is that we should say the Shehechiyanu prayer. That prayer is our way of acknowledging that we are grateful for being alive, aware and celebrating this very moment. Zalman taught us that a beneficial spiritual practice is to say as many shehechiyanus in a day as we can. Being aware and being grateful, using the prayers that we know like the Shehechiyanu, brings us back to our center deep inside, anchors us and brings us back home. Zalman taught us that when we aren’t in our deep center we are homeless. At Nahalat Shalom when we “”do Jewish” together we cultivate our deep centers and share our home. It seems to be a happy convergence that recent neurological insights and our Jewish traditions are telling us the same thing: tilt toward the good, tilt toward the positive. Prayer, chanting and meditation all can help us to switch the channel. And cultivating a positive perspective helps as well. Perspective is a word that comes from the Latin and it means ‘to look through’ or ‘to see clearly’. One of the rabbis from the Talmudic period, Rabbi Eliezer, believed that the best way to be in the world was to have a good eye, an “ayin tovah”. [Pirkei Avot 2:13]. If we have a good eye, then we look out at the world and at ourselves through the lenses of kindness and compassion. Zalman taught us that to have a benevolent eye, in Yiddish, is “to fargin”. When we “fargin” ourselves, we cut ourselves a break. We ease up on our expectations and let ourselves be who we are. When we “fargin” others, it means that we look at them with kindness, and take pride in their accomplishments rather than being jealous or resentful. The opposite of a good eye, an “ayin tovah” is what we call the “ayin rah” the evil eye, the disapproving look, the glance that is jealous, critical or malevolent. We all know what it feels like when we are on the receiving end of one of those poisonous looks. When our eyes communicate our disapproval and harsh judgment of another person it is a kind of interpersonal violence. It makes the world a more difficult and bitter place. These harsh looks diminish all of us and that kind of behavior can be very destructive in a community like ours. We will grow spiritually if we notice when our eyes take on that harsh and judgmental gaze. If we can feel it happening, then we can choose to soften our eyes, our face, and our heart. Cultivating a good eye, an ‘ayin tovah’ brings more compassion, kindness and gentleness into our world. Life is so much easier when our eyes smile at one another. Twice a month on Sunday afternoons, Reb Miles Krassen teaches here at Nahalat Shalom. He shares with us his deep knowledge of Chassidic ideas and literature. In one of those classes he spoke about a teaching of Reb Nachman’s. Reb Nachman was the great-grandson of the founder of Chassidism, the Ba’al Shem Tov. Reb Nachman lived in the Ukraine, and died in 1810 – he was 38 years old. The teaching is called “Azamra”, “I will sing”. [Likutey Moharan #282] It comes from the verse in the Psalms that says, “I will sing to my God as long as I live”. It is considered to be Reb Nachman’s most important teaching. It is so important that we should practice it every day. What is it? We should always look for the good in another person. No matter how difficult that person is, we must always search for what Reb Nachman called the ‘n’kudah tovah’, a tiny point of good. In modern Hebrew a n’kudah is a vowel, one of the tiny little dots above or below a letter. Reb Nachman said, “know that you must judge all people favorably . . . you must search until you find some little bit of good in them . . . and judge them favorably, you really can elevate them and swing the scales of judgment in their favor.” Later on in the same teaching he cautions us to do the same for ourselves. We must search for the good points in ourselves, we must judge ourselves favorably. This will give us new life and bring joy to our souls. The more good points we find, the more joy there will be. This he compares to making music. The good points are like good vibrations, and the good vibrations make melodies. When we pray together as a community, the good points within each one of us start to vibrate and we make beautiful melodies together. In many different ways we are learning that the path we should walk on this Rosh HaShannah, is a path of compassion and kindness. Renewal for our community and for ourselves will come from cultivating a benevolent eye; looking for the good in ourselves and in others; vibrating pleasant vibes, singing, praying and chanting; noticing what is pleasant, perhaps even miraculous, and in response saying as many shehechiyanus as possible. All of this will tilt us toward the positive and help us to remodel our brains and our neurological systems so that we have more joy in our lives. But wait – that’s not all! We have many other teachings from our tradition about judging other people favorably, interpreting their actions favorably, and giving them a break. The Talmudic sage, Yehoshua ben Perachyah, gave us the pithiest advice when he said: "judge all people favorably." [Pirkei Avot 1:6]. The Talmud expands on that idea and adds in the concept of reciprocity. It says, ‘the one who judges his/her neighbour in the scale of merit, will be judged favorably.’ [BT Shabbat 127b adapted]. The Hebrew phrase for ‘judge them in the scale of merit’ is ‘dan l’chaf zachut’. Rashi teaches us that we are all being judged, and if we judge someone else favorably, then when it is our turn to be judged the Heavenly Court will judge us favorably as well. If we give other people a break, if we look at them with benevolent eyes, then at the end of our days, God will be benevolent to us and give us a break. The Ba’al Shem Tov, Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, was the founder of Hassidism. He was born in the Balkans around the year 1700. He focuses our attention on the Biblical teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself”. When he brings that idea together with the Talmudic principle to ‘judge others in the scale of merit’, he is saying that we should judge others the way we judge ourselves. Since we always make excuses for our own misdeeds, we should also make excuses for other people’s as well. [Derech haEmunah Uma’aseh Rav]. A contemporary Hebrew scholar, Hillel Halkin, also wrote about this phrase, ‘judge them favorably in the scale of merit’. In 2012, the Forward published an article called “A Guide for the Judgemental”. Halkin wrote this article under his pen name, Philologos. He writes columns that explain Hebrew words and phrases, and it is one of my favorites. He translates the phrase, ‘dan l’chaf z’khut’ – in its literal sense as “in favor of the pan of merit” — or, as we say in English, by giving it the benefit of the doubt.” The time period from Rosh HaShannah to the end of Yom Kippur is called the “Asseret Y’may T’shuvah”, the ten days of repentance, the 10 days of turning away from that which is negative or destructive and toward that which is positive and healthful. During these ten days, I hope that each of us individually and all of us collectively as the Nahalat Shalom community can make special efforts to fargin ourselves and each other, to look through the lenses of compassion and kindness, to judge one another favorably, and to make as many shehechiyanus in a day as we can so that we relish the things that are good and delightful in our lives. As we do that, we are remodeling our brains so that we tilt the scales toward the good, the positive, the pleasurable and the satisfying. During these ten days, it is much more important to focus on what is positive. Change will come from practicing these habits of mind and daily prayer practices that lighten us up, and give us a positive spin on our day. Any change is much easier to accomplish when we are loving, compassionate and kind. In fact that is the change that we want to see. Carrots work better than sticks. In this New Year, may we all enjoy our carrots.  
…we should say the Shehechiyanu prayer. That prayer is our way of acknowledging that we are grateful for being alive, aware and celebrating this very moment.
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin Personalized Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling
Rabbi Deborah J. Brin  Personalized Ceremonies, Rituals & Pastoral Counseling ©2017 Rabbi Deborah J. Brin
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Rabbi’s Reflections

Changing the Channel: To Fargin — Rosh

HaShannah 5776/2015

Monday, 14 September 2015   Rabbi Deborah J. Brin In some ways I’m good at helping other people because when I need help I seek it from people I trust. I got some advice last summer. I was at a low ebb energetically and spiritually and desperately needed to replenish and rejuvenate before I returned to work in mid-July. The advice I received was that it was time for me to do a personal retreat, a hermitage. I found a one- room place with a kitchenette and a bathroom on the Pecos River. I’ve been on meditation retreats but I’d never done anything like this before – I was going to be alone, on an introspective journey, for five days and six nights. I brought things that I thought I would need – prayer books, a journal, music, books that I hoped would inspire me, my tallis and t’filin, and some recordings of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, zaycher Tzadik livracha, our teacher and the founder of Jewish Renewal. One of the books that I brought with me is called Hardwiring Happiness by a neurologist named Rick Hanson. He talks in his book about “red brain” and “green brain”. The green brain is when we are safe, happy, connected, calm, and content. The red brain is when all systems are on red alert, we feel threatened in some way, triggered, frightened, stressed out and quarrelsome. [p.32 – 56]. Hanson’s book describes in detail that our brains our designed to have a “negativity bias”. We actually perceive things that are negative more easily than things that are positive. Our ancient forbears had to learn quickly about what animal or situation posed a deadly threat. Our survival was at stake, and so we biologically fast-tracked negative experiences so that we could learn from them and stay alive. As Hanson says, “our ancestors could make two basic kinds of mistakes: thinking there was a tiger in the bushes when there wasn’t one, and thinking that there was no tiger in the bushes when there actually was one. The cost of the first mistake was needless anxiety, while the cost of the second one was death. Consequently, we evolved to make the first mistake a thousand times to avoid making the second mistake once.” It’s as if our brains have Velcro for difficult, painful, negative and stressful events. These sorts of negative experiences become embedded in our neurological system quickly and easily, because of our need to survive. Safety, security, pleasure, comfort, enough delicious food, fun, and enjoyment are important experiences and create positive emotional states. It turns out that since these states and experiences are not vital for our moment-to- moment survival, they don’t get hard-wired into our rapid response system. If we have Velcro for negative experiences, then the opposite is true for pleasurable ones. We’ve got Teflon for positive feelings and experiences. [pp 21-27]. It turns out that we are not physiologically structured to hold onto our yummy feelings. What lousy news is that! No wonder achieving and maintaining a sense of hope, equanimity, gratitude, compassion or joy are such huge spiritual challenges. Lest you dive deep into a sense of despondency over the news that we are hardwired for negative emotions and experiences like fear, anxiety, dread, frustration, prejudice, dissatisfaction, disappointment and depletion — there is hope! Positive emotional states and experiences can become a part of our neurological system, too. This is probably the most important piece of information in Hanson’s book. We can actually remodel our own brains and tilt our experiences toward the positive. We can make choices that will result in rewiring our neurological systems and therefore our responses to everything inside us and around us. What do we do to become inherently more positive? We need to notice good things or feelings when they are happening, focus on them and then really feel them and enjoy them long enough [about 5-10 seconds] for our brains to notice and lay down new neural pathways. Choose to notice what’s positive and let it soak in for 5 – 10 seconds. That’s the length of one long, deep inhale and exhale. Like most spiritual wisdom, this sounds simple and is hard to remember to do. My five-day hermitage was wonderful and it was hard. The first two days were delightful and rejuvenating. I davened, meditated, went for walks, lay down on the grass by the river, and tried to draw the hummingbirds at the feeder. The third day was the hardest. I really needed to change the channel, change what I was thinking and feeling, and get into a different space. I listened to some recordings of Reb Zalman, zaycher Tzadik livracha. Zalman mentioned two different practices from our tradition that can help us change the channel on our interior states. The first practice is that we should remember to look with a benevolent eye at other people, our surroundings, and ourselves. The second practice is that we should say the Shehechiyanu prayer. That prayer is our way of acknowledging that we are grateful for being alive, aware and celebrating this very moment. Zalman taught us that a beneficial spiritual practice is to say as many shehechiyanus in a day as we can. Being aware and being grateful, using the prayers that we know like the Shehechiyanu, brings us back to our center deep inside, anchors us and brings us back home. Zalman taught us that when we aren’t in our deep center we are homeless. At Nahalat Shalom when we “”do Jewish” together we cultivate our deep centers and share our home. It seems to be a happy convergence that recent neurological insights and our Jewish traditions are telling us the same thing: tilt toward the good, tilt toward the positive. Prayer, chanting and meditation all can help us to switch the channel. And cultivating a positive perspective helps as well. Perspective is a word that comes from the Latin and it means ‘to look through’ or ‘to see clearly’. One of the rabbis from the Talmudic period, Rabbi Eliezer, believed that the best way to be in the world was to have a good eye, an “ayin tovah”. [Pirkei Avot 2:13]. If we have a good eye, then we look out at the world and at ourselves through the lenses of kindness and compassion. Zalman taught us that to have a benevolent eye, in Yiddish, is “to fargin”. When we “fargin” ourselves, we cut ourselves a break. We ease up on our expectations and let ourselves be who we are. When we “fargin” others, it means that we look at them with kindness, and take pride in their accomplishments rather than being jealous or resentful. The opposite of a good eye, an “ayin tovah” is what we call the “ayin rah” the evil eye, the disapproving look, the glance that is jealous, critical or malevolent. We all know what it feels like when we are on the receiving end of one of those poisonous looks. When our eyes communicate our disapproval and harsh judgment of another person it is a kind of interpersonal violence. It makes the world a more difficult and bitter place. These harsh looks diminish all of us and that kind of behavior can be very destructive in a community like ours. We will grow spiritually if we notice when our eyes take on that harsh and judgmental gaze. If we can feel it happening, then we can choose to soften our eyes, our face, and our heart. Cultivating a good eye, an ‘ayin tovah’ brings more compassion, kindness and gentleness into our world. Life is so much easier when our eyes smile at one another. Twice a month on Sunday afternoons, Reb Miles Krassen teaches here at Nahalat Shalom. He shares with us his deep knowledge of Chassidic ideas and literature. In one of those classes he spoke about a teaching of Reb Nachman’s. Reb Nachman was the great-grandson of the founder of Chassidism, the Ba’al Shem Tov. Reb Nachman lived in the Ukraine, and died in 1810 – he was 38 years old. The teaching is called “Azamra”, “I will sing”. [Likutey Moharan #282] It comes from the verse in the Psalms that says, “I will sing to my God as long as I live”. It is considered to be Reb Nachman’s most important teaching. It is so important that we should practice it every day. What is it? We should always look for the good in another person. No matter how difficult that person is, we must always search for what Reb Nachman called the ‘n’kudah tovah’, a tiny point of good. In modern Hebrew a n’kudah is a vowel, one of the tiny little dots above or below a letter. Reb Nachman said, “know that you must judge all people favorably . . . you must search until you find some little bit of good in them . . . and judge them favorably, you really can elevate them and swing the scales of judgment in their favor.” Later on in the same teaching he cautions us to do the same for ourselves. We must search for the good points in ourselves, we must judge ourselves favorably. This will give us new life and bring joy to our souls. The more good points we find, the more joy there will be. This he compares to making music. The good points are like good vibrations, and the good vibrations make melodies. When we pray together as a community, the good points within each one of us start to vibrate and we make beautiful melodies together. In many different ways we are learning that the path we should walk on this Rosh HaShannah, is a path of compassion and kindness. Renewal for our community and for ourselves will come from cultivating a benevolent eye; looking for the good in ourselves and in others; vibrating pleasant vibes, singing, praying and chanting; noticing what is pleasant, perhaps even miraculous, and in response saying as many shehechiyanus as possible. All of this will tilt us toward the positive and help us to remodel our brains and our neurological systems so that we have more joy in our lives. But wait – that’s not all! We have many other teachings from our tradition about judging other people favorably, interpreting their actions favorably, and giving them a break. The Talmudic sage, Yehoshua ben Perachyah, gave us the pithiest advice when he said: "judge all people favorably." [Pirkei Avot 1:6]. The Talmud expands on that idea and adds in the concept of reciprocity. It says, ‘the one who judges his/her neighbour in the scale of merit, will be judged favorably.’ [BT Shabbat 127b adapted]. The Hebrew phrase for ‘judge them in the scale of merit’ is ‘dan l’chaf zachut’. Rashi teaches us that we are all being judged, and if we judge someone else favorably, then when it is our turn to be judged the Heavenly Court will judge us favorably as well. If we give other people a break, if we look at them with benevolent eyes, then at the end of our days, God will be benevolent to us and give us a break. The Ba’al Shem Tov, Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, was the founder of Hassidism. He was born in the Balkans around the year 1700. He focuses our attention on the Biblical teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself”. When he brings that idea together with the Talmudic principle to ‘judge others in the scale of merit’, he is saying that we should judge others the way we judge ourselves. Since we always make excuses for our own misdeeds, we should also make excuses for other people’s as well. [Derech haEmunah Uma’aseh Rav]. A contemporary Hebrew scholar, Hillel Halkin, also wrote about this phrase, ‘judge them favorably in the scale of merit’. In 2012, the Forward published an article called “A Guide for the Judgemental”. Halkin wrote this article under his pen name, Philologos. He writes columns that explain Hebrew words and phrases, and it is one of my favorites. He translates the phrase, ‘dan l’chaf z’khut’ – in its literal sense as “in favor of the pan of merit” — or, as we say in English, by giving it the benefit of the doubt.” The time period from Rosh HaShannah to the end of Yom Kippur is called the “Asseret Y’may T’shuvah”, the ten days of repentance, the 10 days of turning away from that which is negative or destructive and toward that which is positive and healthful. During these ten days, I hope that each of us individually and all of us collectively as the Nahalat Shalom community can make special efforts to fargin ourselves and each other, to look through the lenses of compassion and kindness, to judge one another favorably, and to make as many shehechiyanus in a day as we can so that we relish the things that are good and delightful in our lives. As we do that, we are remodeling our brains so that we tilt the scales toward the good, the positive, the pleasurable and the satisfying. During these ten days, it is much more important to focus on what is positive. Change will come from practicing these habits of mind and daily prayer practices that lighten us up, and give us a positive spin on our day. Any change is much easier to accomplish when we are loving, compassionate and kind. In fact that is the change that we want to see. Carrots work better than sticks. In this New Year, may we all enjoy our carrots.  
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