Posts tagged Jewish
Where I’m going with this week’s MMM may sound familiar… It’s Let Go and Let G-d. It sounds a bit cliché, but it’s where my heart is, and means so much, in so many ways.
The timing of it in this weeks’ Parsha, Vaera, is significant because G-d is showing his stuff in a simple and miraculous way, letting them know that G-d’s the one running the show, basically. That’s what the 10 Plagues are all about, so that everyone should know it’s from G-d.
And, in addition, that everyone should know it so deeply that even when G-d doesn’t come out from “behind the curtain,” like the Wizard of Oz did at the end of the movie, and he stays hidden behind the workings of the natural world, even that’s miraculous. Even then, we have to know that G-d is “pulling the levers,” and running the show.
Based on this revelation, we have to understand that we always have an option. Whether It’s making a living, navigating a relationship, maintaining our sanity (increasingly a problem), or feeling good about ourselves in any area of life, it’s very important to know we always have the option of letting go and letting G-d take over.
You don’t have to be the boss, operating the control panel of your life, at all times. To the extent that you trust enough to Let Go and Let G-d, to that same extent G-d agrees to step in and take care of things. To the extent that you don’t Let Go and Let G-d, it’s as though G-d is saying, “You got it? OK, just call me if you need me. I’ll let you take care of it.”
It’s almost as simple as that. We all have it, all of us. We have the option of letting go and letting G-d take the helm. To the extent that we’re real with this option, and not just paying lip service to the idea to impress yourself or others that you’re a believer and filled with trust, if you really do let G-d in you will find G-d will really come in. It’s a matter of degree.
This idea is taken from sources, and it provides a background for this Parsha, and for the reasoning behind Let Go and Let God. Hints and tools to accomplish this are widely available, even in this Parsha where Moses has an amazing interchange with G-d about whether he’s the one who should be going into Egypt to save the Jewish people.
Moses asked, essentially, “It’s not enough for me to say G-d sent me. I need to know which aspect of G-d, which characteristic sent me in to say Let My People Go?” And of course G-d said, “Tell him Ayeh Asher Ayeh, I will be who I will be. “ That’s a very deep statement, and it tells us we simply don’t know when, where, how or what. We just have to let it all go. We have to trust G-d.
“I will be who I will be,” is what our trust and our patience are all about. It’s about knowing there really is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s going to get us through. G-d is saying, “You gotta trust me on this one… I’m not going to show you according to what you are ready for in these open miracles, but I want to elicit your trust, and then the miracles will kick in.
We must have trust and patience in the “I will be who I will be” aspect of G-d.
And we have to understand that, to the extent you let G-d in, G-d will come in. That’s what the Shekinah is all about. The Shekinah is the Feminine Principle of G-d, the felt presence of G-d in the world. To the extent that we let G-d in, to that extent will we experience the presence of G-d. So, part of letting go and letting G-d is just to let him into the places where G-d is normally not found.
That’s what increases the presence of G-d in our lives. Some people make it their entire life goal to connect to G-d. Devekut is probably the most important principle we learn from Mystical Judaism, especially Chassidut. We learn to bring G-d into everything and cling to G-d at all times, in all aspects of our lives.
When we Let Go and Let G-d, we’ll have a lot of more of G-d than we otherwise would have. Our Patriarchs and Matriarchs taught us this. They let G-d into every aspect of their lives, and they only succeeded when they let G-d into their situation.
When we look at the people who did the greatest miracles, took the greatest strides in Biblical history, it was the people who let G-d into their lives. When Pharaoh was just about to promote Joseph to second in command of the most powerful nation of Eqypt, as a result of Joseph’s dream interpretation, Pharaoh asked Joseph how he knew how to interpret dreams.
So, Joseph could have responded that he had a PhD in dream interpretation from the Harvard University of the day, or that he’d been working on it for many years, honing his skills. But he didn’t go in that direction. Instead, he said, basically, “I don’t know a thing. G-d did it all for me.”
Joseph Let Go and Let G-d. And he started to have incredible influence because he was able to do that.
That’s where the miracles come into our lives, when we actually realize and to the extent we realize that G-d’s running the show, in our lives, and we let him in by seeing that and responding to that in a personalized way.
We let G-d in by understanding that we, as humans, are limited. We cannot so everything. There are impossible situations for us, but not for G-d. “I can’t do it, G-d, but you can do it for me.”
In a nutshell, that’s my exploration for the week. And I’ll probably only make it through the week by letting go and letting G-d into my life.
I’m going to share different aspects of transcendence in my upcoming MMM sessions now. I’ve rediscovered that I’m a transcender, and this week I want to focus on timelessness, or transcending time.
Why now? In the Parshas, we see that Yaakov, Jacob, goes down to Egypt and said that he “began to live.” Our mystical Sages say, and also in the Talmud it’s written that Yaakov never died. He was timeless. He lived, and of course we know he died, because there are verses in Torah telling us so. But on another level there’s a part of Yaakov that never died.
It behooves us to explore that, because Yaakov is us and we are Yaakov. That’s what the patriarchs and matriarchs are all about. It’s not just a Bible story for us to enjoy quaint lessons from. In reality, they are inside of us and we have to understand that Yaakov never died because it affects our consciousness.
This is the direction I’m going in my MMM sessions – how to stay alive on many, many different levels. One of those levels is reached by understanding how to stay alive by transcending time.
Time is entropy. Time is death. Time ticks away, from a beginning to an end. When you get beyond time, there is no time. There is no end and no beginning.
So, that’s the direction I’m headed now. And we’ll start with an understanding of what time is. Time is basically rectification, Kabbalistically, in our present world right now we are in the world of time. We see G-d is running the world through a time-oriented facet.
As long as there’s more to fix, as long as we’re in this world to fix up unfinished business, it will be measured by time. Our concept of time becomes transcended to the extent that everything is Perfect AS-IS, and everything is whole as-is, and the direction we are headed.
To get to those places of timelessness, there are a lot of different possibilities. One of them is just to be aware, to be real and to embrace the idea of eternity; it’s the notion that what we do now will reverberate forever. It’s understanding that every thought, word and feeling we have now goes on forever.
When we relate to our thoughts, words and actions in that way, we step into timelessness. We relate to it daily.
Timelessness can be acquired by hooking up into our essence. When a musician hooks up into essence, you never get tired of their music. Whenever a great poet does it, contrasted to a great Biblical poet like King David, we see that King David’s psalms go on forever. His poetry has eternal, lasting value. That same psalm has been recited for the last 3000 years, and it never gets old. It will continue to be recited into the future as well. “The song remains the same…” as goes the song sung by Led Zeppelin. It never grows old.
We can measure our own creative works by measuring their timelessness, too. We are trying to create things that are timeless by connecting up to our essence. Any time we connect to essence we connect to G-d and to limitlessness. When we bring limitlessness into the realm of time, then time melts away. That’s when we are situated above time. As they say, time flies when you’re having a good time. When you’re having a good time you’re connecting to G-d and to endlessness. In many ways, it goes by in a flash.
Jacob was working for his bride, Rachel, whom he loved. Seven years passed in a way that showed time had no meaning at that time in history.
We need to find a way to disconnect with what we understand time to be in order to achieve timelessness. When we do that, we do it through G-dliness and through essence, and also through understanding the connectivity of everything. When something is measured by time it means you’re only seeing one, particular time zone, and not what happened before or is happening beyond this time zone.
To the extent that you think in a more wholistic way, beyond a particular time zone, then you are able to expand time. You can make time disappear.
That’s what I think the essence the mystical thinking about time is all about. It’s to go over time. We don’t really move in a linear way through time, we jump around. A timeline has no real relevance for us, not prior to or following after the present moment.
During a calendar year we revisit the same Parshas and the same holidays, in an elliptical way. We are not just going around in circles because we are going deeper and deeper each time around. We see new things we didn’t see before when revisiting the same places. That’s because, until we grasp all the gusto and all the essence available in a particular time zone we aren’t able to transcend its limitations. We can go beyond it once we experience its essence.
So, that’s who we are and what spiritual time is all about. We are moving from an era of humanity, of a time-oriented period, to an above-time-oriented period. We get a taste of this every Shabbat. Shabbat takes us to the place where we try to train ourselves to not think about time, or think about tomorrow. We have many laws, halachot, constraining us from thinking about what’s happened before and what will happen afterwards. It’s about being “here and now,” in the present.
That trains us to move from the time-boundedness of this world to the unboundedness of the next world.
I’m calling this post The Healing of The Chosen Nation, and beginning with two quotes:
כִּי-קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר, מְאֹד: בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ, לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ.
But the word is very close to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, so that you may do it. Dvarim 30:14
I will take you from among the nations and gather you out of all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle on you clean water… I will give you a new heart, and I will place in you a new spirit; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and will give you a heart of flesh… I will put my spirit within you… and you will be my people, and I will be your G-d. Ezekiel 36:24-29
What comes up here is that G-d is going to heal us, because in order to be the chosen people we need healing. Part of the healing we need is the healing of believing in ourselves.
We have a very strong destiny and task at hand. It may even be too strong… It’s cosmic and world-changing task we have to live up to, and we have no choice about it. We have to live up to it, one way or another.
We are on a threshold of history right now, so we need to look inside ourselves to see if we’re up to the task. Part of preparing for it, for being up to our assigned task, is to be healed by G-d and to be ready for it.
There are three types of healing I want to talk about, and the first one is Being Beloved, which means feeling how much Hashem loves us. We have to feel that we are something special. We have to feel that we deserve to be something special. We have to feel like we know what our specialness is all about.
And even if we don’t know, we believe that it will be revealed to us, and that it’s real. We have spent so much of our history trying to be more American than Americans, and more British than the Brits, rather than being more Jewish. We don’t seem to understand how we can be completely Jewish.
We’re like a neglected child that never got the basic foundations needed to build up healthy self-esteem. So, that’s the first thing, feeling the love of who we are, inside and outside.
THE HEALING MEDITATION
Experience yourself as being a proud member of the most special family\nation that has ever existed… experience yourself as being very beloved in the eyes of Hashem now, in your own eyes and ultimately in the eyes of the world… Feel Hashem’s deep, deep love for you—so deep that we are referred-to as His daughter, his sister, his mother, so deep that He reveals Himself to you in all situations –even when we are stuck in the deepest lows… feel the presence of the guardian Angels that Hashem sends to watch over us—every step that we take. Be aware that the whole world was created solely for your sake… know that we are compared to a dove, that though they may fly away—they always come back to their mate—so too, that describes us with Hashem and Hashem with us… we are refereed-to as his Holy ones, his Chosen ones, his Priestly ones, his lights to the world, his righteous ones … in light of all of this love, realize that the when we are targets of hate, it comes from jealousy, and the love and high esteem with which we are regarded from Above will serve as the springboards of our recuperation and our incumbent reclaiming of the unique global standing which is our birthright.
The second type of healing is this – Healing Our Character.
There are several points to make on this:
We have a hard time believing in ourselves. We are not aware of our strengths, and we are brain-washed into believing vicious lies about being lustful money-grabbers.
We are divisive, and have a very difficult time uniting under one leader or one banner.
We are great actors and imitators of other peoples, in the many exiles into which we have been cast. We think we don’t have our own character in depth, so we reach out to grab the cultures and belief systems of other peoples, other cultures and faiths that have, ironically, received their traditions from our own.
THE HEALING MEDITATION
Experience yourself as being a proud member of the most special family\nation that has ever existed.
Know that we are the nation that has done more than all others to give the world values and a conscience (derived from our Holy Torah). Know that you are part of a nation that bears both sides of a paradox and comes through shining. Know that you are part of a people of deep and rich character, and despite this character and greatness, the more that we have, the more that we make ourselves small, usually attributing it all to Hashem
Experience your unique trait of being a holy skeptic, knowing that there is always something bigger and better than what is being offered. Know that you have an inherent brilliance both intellectually and emotionally. Know that we are compared to olive oil and therefore don’t mix with other nations, but rather rise to the top. Know that though we are compared with the sands of the sea, and when we fall, we fall all the way, but at the same time we are compared to the stars in the sky, and we rise, we rise all the way to the top.
Experience being similar to the palm tree—a tree that is useful in all of its aspects—so too are we. Experience being like the lily of the field which blooms despite being burnt by the sun. Know that when all is said and done, the nations of the world will seek to imitate and emulate us and not vice versa.
And finally, the third type of healing is Being Intimately Connected To G-d.
Here’s the challenge we have with this healing – we are a broken people, broken by thousands of years of being tossed around, in exiles and sufferings, and we have a hard time seeing the full picture, the inter-connectedness of it all. A broken people has a hard time believing that G-d is the leader, the healer, the guide and THE ANSWER.
A broken nation, thinking it has nothing of its own, nothing valuable, clutches at straws. We embrace cults and worship idols, fake ideologies and power positions and obsessions and schemes. We tend to go after everything, except that which exists in our own backyard.
THE HEALING MEDITATION
Experience yourself as being a proud member of the most special family\nation that has ever existed. Know that you are a monotheist—you gave this idea to the world, you have inborn faith—you are a believer, the child of believers… you are a Y-E-H-U-D-I, a person whose essence is G-dliness.
You are a part of a people who bridge Heaven to Earth in every detailed aspect of life. You are a person who is constantly seeking to unify everything and to see everything brought to perfection, rooted in our people’s drive towards an ideal, globally-unified messianic vision. You are an inheritor of Tefilla and Torah –a constant dialogue to and from Hashem.
You are a witness to the world of Hashem’s existence, your deepest will is at one with Hashem’s will. You are a soul that is a part of Hashem, and therefore beyond space and time and all other limitations. You are G-d’s mouthpiece to the world when you are connected to Hashem, you are indestructible and impervious to all harm. You are an inheritor of eternity and infinity, and the great liberation that these grant to you. You are one with Hashem and one with the Torah, so step up and shake off the dust of the apparent exile that you are dwelling in, and that dwells inside of you. Lift up your hands to the Heavens and reclaim your glorious heritage!
I’m starting a new series now, on the untapped essence of the Jewish people. It won’t be comparing Jewish people to non-Jewish people, as that would be politically incorrect, to say the least.
Instead, this is an exploration, and I’ll be tapping into what our destiny is all about, using some sources I’ve put together in the past and expanding on them. My intention is to reveal some things I didn’t see or know before.
In that spirit, I’m calling this series, “Restore The Jewish Glory.” And this will be a little introduction to it:
First, a quote from Ezekiel 36:24-29, “I will take you from among the nations and gather you out of all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle on you clean water. I will give you a new heart and I will place in you a new spirit. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and will give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you. You will be my people and I will be your G-d.”
Second, a quote from the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, “Our truth is strong enough, but it is so overpowering and we are still unable to explain it in a clear language. In our inwardness, we understand our ideas and in the course of time our speech will also emerge from its hard exile in which it is confined. Only a people that has finished what it has started can descend from the stage of history, when its vision has already been fully disclosed to the world. Out of the inner depths, the Jewish people will yet sound the same call that was issued by the rock, from which it was hewn.”
The whole motivation of this my new exploration here is this – our historical destiny as a people is at hand. We are a nation of priests, we are a chosen people, we are a light unto the nations, and we are living in a period of time where the great majority of our people don’t buy into these times. They don’t begin to see, understand or know its own greatness and glory. Most of us cannot see that there’s anything special or unique that distinguishes us from other people in world outlooks, not at all.
So, the question is how to approach a subject that is so broad, so sensitive and yet so crucial. How can we hope to do justice to, perhaps, the most important question that exists for our people, and maybe for the whole world? And the answer is, we cannot do justice. It’s clearly beyond our capacity. But G-d can do it through us.
In that spirit then, we march forward, drawing specific topics from the following categories, and maybe we can find our way on this journey and map out some kind of path. Maybe we can develop some types of meditations by taking these ideas, one by one, and exploring what they’re all about.
These platitudes that we are meant to step up into, for the sake of our own destiny and the sake of all mankind present some challenges. Here’s a list of the challenges, the things we must work with:
- What does it mean to be a light to the nations?
- What does it mean to have a heart of flesh?
- What does it mean to be a chosen people?
- What does it mean to be a kingdom of priests?
- What does it mean to be a testifier of G-d for the whole world?
- What does it mean to be a teacher to the whole world?
- How does the land of Israel figure in to all of this?
- How does Moshiach figure in to all this?
- How does our people, the great majority of which are not observant, but very spirited (I would say)… How do they figure into all of this process?
- What is the timing involved in all this, stepping up into our destiny?
Those are a few of the questions, and obviously there are more. But let’s deal with at least one of them now.
We are a light unto the nations. What does this whole idea mean? If we were to do a Light Unto The Nations Meditation, what would it look like?
I think it would sound like this – Allow yourself to step into the future. See yourself as a proud member of a people who understand both the glory and the responsibility of being a chosen nation, a nation of global light-conveyers.
Experience the love inside of yourself that you are very inspired to share with all of humanity.
Experience yourself filled-up with light, a light that stretches from one end of the world to the other, a light that’s overflowing, a light that’s experienced as wisdom and G-dliness and love and transcendence and healing. It’s a light you’re driven to share with everyone, a light that’s received by one and all, directly and consciously, but also indirectly and subconsciously.
This is what I think the meditation would be about, and it’s not just a meditation, but a type of foresight or vision of what this state would be like. Because being a light to the nations is being someone who, when the world is in the dark, lights up a torch, a light or a beam to light up the path.
How does a person, no less than a nation, do that for the rest of the world? What comes to my mind is that person would need a universal language. We would need to have the ability to talk to anyone about all these things, and as a teacher we must know a language the students will understand, a translation of our destiny, which is Torah, into a universal kind of language of some type. That’s the first thing.
In order to be a superior kind of light, we would need to teach so that a person can come away from our teachings with absolute clarity, to know where to go, what to do, what to say and how to say it, who to be with and why to do it. They would know the answers to what baffles us all, in our private lives and in our national destiny.
That’s the challenge, and being a light unto the nations is probably much more than that.
Here are some little snippets of some things we know Passover is really all about.
The obvious, underlying theme is getting out of Egypt. And we all need to ask ourselves, “what do I need to do in order to get out of my own Egypt?” We say it every day because we need to do it every day. But Passover is the annual celebration and rectification of all that, so here are some of the different directions we can take in trying to connect.
First, we have to connect to the historical story of getting out of Egypt, to understand our own, personal story, and to emulate the way G-d handled the situation. We’re trying to emulate G-d’s way of getting the Israelites out of Eqypt. We study the Creator’s plan to see what elements we see in our own challenge:
We understand how important freedom is, and that we are a people who represent the importance, the centrality to life, that human beings are free. From the Egypt story, we learn that we are free to serve G-d, and anything short of that, being subservient to another human being, is substandard living. That’s one thing we’re learning from Passover – to be free to be a servant to G-d.
It’s almost like an oxymoron… We are free to serve, but we’re serving G-d. So. that’s an ultimate kind of freedom.
One of the tickets to getting out of Egypt, maybe the most important one, is emunah, it’s belief. It’s embracing the fact that G-d’s running the show, and it’s all for the best, and everything’s going to work out. The more we embrace that, the more miracles come to us.
The beginning of the process is primal screaming, not even words, but wordless grunts and groans and screams that are coming from the deepest, gutsy place where words are coming from. That’s how our slave ancestors started their process.
The goal of the process, in the end, is geulah, it’s redemption. It’s to get out of exile and everything that exile represents on an actual, an international and a personal level. Getting out of exile is the ultimate act of being free. Exile is being out of sync with myself and disconnected with my reality, and freedom is being connected with my essence, with who I am. I’m in sync with myself, with all the different parts of myself, with my heart and mind, with trusting the process, and with bonding where I am now with where I am allowing myself to grow. It’s being in a state of Da’at consciousness.
It’s “speaking myself out,” with poetry, with prayer, with prose, with Torah, with conversation, and with anything and everything in the higher realm of what speaking is meant to do to get myself out of exile. All these things are getting out of exile, which is the status quo throughout history for our people, and we’re constantly working to get out, to get beyond it.
The Pesach model we’re using to get out of Egypt is a model which displays a huge leap of consciousness that received on that first night and day of the first Passover. And then it left us, it was “easy come, easy go,” and we have to work through a whole, 49-day Omer period to get it back incrementally. Since we’re working on it, and it’s not just a freebie gift, we acquire it. The ultimate goal of the whole thing is to go to mount Sinai. It’s to get the Torah. It’s to have direct interface with G-d, as an entire people. That’s what this whole thing is preparing for.
Part of getting out of Egypt for us is knowing how to be born. We were born as a people then, and we’re born as individuals when we work to get ourselves out of Egypt now. Being born is a very important process, because everything else comes after the birth, after the beginning.
We were born out of Egypt in an “above time” fashion, and we have to birth ourselves in all new beginnings, in an “above time” and “above space” way.
Part of getting out of Egypt is knowing that G-d is running the show. All ten plagues in Egypt were displaying full-on promise that G-d is running every detail and aspect of reality. He sort of came out from, “behind the curtain,” to show us that, as a one-time event in history, to let us know that he’s really running the show on all levels of reality, higher, middle and lower.
Coming out of Egypt is being a servant of G-d, but it’s also being a witness, one who testifies that G-d is found in this aspect of life, where G-d is normally not found. Part of coming out of Egypt is expanded consciousness, which is where we will live in Messianic times, when we will live mindfully and consciousness-fully, that’s the place we’re going to. That’s what gets us out of Egypt, that’s what gets us out of a slave mentality.
Passover, in Hebrew, is Pesach, which means. “mouth speaks,” and we’re supposed to do that. The ultimate, human expression of G-dliness is through the mouth. And the more we attach ourselves to G-d by speaking out the Haggadah on the night of Pesach, and any Holy speaking, the more we speak our way into consciousness and out of Egypt, out of the narrow straights of our lives.
We’re mean to understand, from this whole Egyptian saga, that everything is a miracle. Those were “open miracles,” but we understand from the 10 Plagues and the Red Sea, and all that magnificent stuff, that the hidden stuff is also miraculous. Breathing is a miracle, and things coming together and going my way… we need to pay attention to them. It’s all miraculous. There are no rules, no hard-and-fast, status quo rules of nature, when you start looking at the world through the glasses of miracles.
All of these things point to getting out of Egypt and all of things things are going to fortify us, hopefully, for the rest of our year.
The theme of Parsha Yitro, as I see it, is transcendence of Torah, and the power of receiving Torah. It happened in and around the receiving of Torah, which is in Parsha Yitro.
Yitro is the name of Moses’ converted father-in-law, who had tasted every aspect, every flavor of every religion in the world before he came to realize and accept upon himself Judaism as the one, true religion. In doing so, he made a great sanctification of G-d’s name in his life.
He was also a man of vision and insight into people. So he was the one, maybe the only one qualified to successfully give advice to his son-in-law, Moses, the greatest scholar and prophet of all time. He was able to tell Moses that he needed to allocate the various responsibilities of helping and guiding the people to many others, along with himself. This shows, retroactively, that he was able to go down to the essence of every person, and to see who they were and what their essence was, because Moses’s soul was an over-soul. He was able to see the essence of everybody inside of himself, and thereby he’d know exactly what to tell them.
Another transcendent aspect that comes through in this Parsha is that Moses was able to see other people’s essence and greatness, not only by identifying it inside his own self, but also, as the Zohar goes to great lengths to explain, to see how each person’s body reveals deep secrets about that person. That includes lines on the face, the distance of eyes, ears, nose and mouth from each other, the color of the eyes, the entire arrangement of the face. These are things we may feel intuitively, but the Zohar goes into great detail about knowing the essence of a person, based on his or her physical make-up. It reveals what the spiritual personality is all about. It’s another transcendence, inside-information resource about humans.
The whole of Parsha Yitro is leading toward coming to the mountain, which is probably the most transcendent experience mankind has ever had. Even before they got to the mountain, their openness to accept whatever G-d offers them, sight unseen, puts them at the level of Adam before the sin. It earns them the level of transcending sickness, aging and death because they were living on the level of accepting unseen whatever it was that G-d would bring out for them. They lifted themselves up to angelic reality, where they would not age, become sick or die.
Another transcendent point was that all the Ten Commandments were given in one word. In one word, they got the entire Torah, which is a very hard thing to understand. Their experience, as they received the Torah, were also very, very extraordinary. They were actually able to see the audio and to hear the visual. They rose themselves up to a place beyond space and time and normal understanding.
Another extraordinary point is that Torah was downloaded into each person who accepted it at that time. The Zohar talks about how the Torah and the Israelites and G-d are all one. When you get to the level where you connect to one of them, you connect to the other two as well. Torah, G-d and the Neshama, the soul… that’s the level the Israelites achieved at Mt. Sinai as well.
One extraordinary thing is how we hear a story. Parsha Yitro begins with the words that Yitro (Jethro) heard. You could have a thousand people, and 999 of them hear something one way, but that one, rare person hears it in the proper way, and that completely changes the reality of how we understand. So, we learn from that how to hear. Yitro heard from the cosmic happenings, what was happening to the Israelites, and understood, “I have to come. If that’s what’s happening to them, then they are my people.”
Within the Ten Commandments the Israelites received there are 620 letters, which equals the numerical value of the Sephira Keter, which shows they are G-d’s will. All of the letters of the Ten Commandments are hints to the entire Torah as well. Another hint is that 620 is 613 mitzvoth plus another seven mitzvoth from the rabbis. So, it’s Keter, and it’s all the mitzvoth and the entire Torah just waiting to be expounded upon.
Parsha Yitro also talks about the idea of Torah itself being the culmination of the Israelites’ entire experience in Egypt, coming out of Egypt, and in preparing themselves to get to Mt. Sinai. The Torah they received is the ultimate, transcendent aspect of life. It showed them G-d’s will in any particular situation, but Torah, in itself, is a type of a cure-all. Connecting to Torah lifts a person above any negative effects in nature and any other way.
My teachers have told me, and they got this from our Sages… if anything is bothering you, just turn up the volume of Torah. Turn up the intensity, and turn up the quantity of Torah you’re learning. You’ll find healing in that.
So, it’s an interface with G-d, the fact we learn it now and that they received in the past it as well.
There’s no way I could complete the topic of the soul last week, so now I’ll talk a bit more about what the soul is, but also what it feels like, experientially.
Let’s start with some definitive understanding:
- One of our sources tells us that our soul is part of the Divine, above. That may be a quote from Job, I’ll have to check that out. But the idea is this – our soul is Divine, although this seems like a contradiction in terms because the Divine is infinite, and there’s no such thing as a “part” of the infinite. I don’t have an answer about how to deal with that discrepancy, but our souls are partly inside of us and partly outside of us, making us part Divine and part human.
Our soul is a part of the Divine, so that gives us a big hint as to what our soul is all about. Its natural home is in the Divine realm. Everything that we can do to connect with the Divine will connect with our soul.
- The soul can be measured and expressed according to different criteria:
- According to soul-type teachings, the esoteric, Kabbalistic teachings. The more it grasps those, the higher the level of soul.
- The soul can be expressed and rectified by the way that we express holy words, such as prayers, studies and devotions. That expression is an expression of our soul.
- The soul can be identified and realized by taking note of the smoothness level of different aspects of our life, relationships, events we go through, our personal drives, words of Torah and mitzvoth that we express. To the extent that they are smooth, the soul being expressed is rectified.
- The soul can be measured by the clarity of way we can view the four letters of the Divine Name in our mind’s eye. That’s a meditation of the Arizal, and there’s an entire analysis that can be done by picturing the four letters of the Divine Name, the Yud and the Hei and the Vav and the Hei. According to the brightness, clarity, size, animation, aliveness, etc., that’s a reflection of the level of a person’s soul, determined by what they see.
- The soul can be identified and perfected according to the drives and the values we naturally have. That’s a mirror reflection of what our soul is.
- The soul can be measured and perfected by the level of concrete or abstract articulation. The more abstract and multi-meaning concepts we give expression to in our lives, usually the higher kind of soul we have.
- The soul can be measured by the degree of G-dliness that invades our lives, and if we’re driven all the time towards it our soul is at a higher level.
- The soul can be measured by the degree of self-actualization. The more we do what we’re here for in this world, the more we are soul-ing, to turn that word soul into a verb.
- The soul can be measured and realized to the extent that we can relate to others, or that we have others inside ourselves. The greatest example of that is Moses, who had everybody inside himself, and could relate to and counsel everybody, not only in his own time, but for all generations to come as well.
- The soul can be measured according to the level that we prepare our post-life in this life. If we’re truly concerned, if we’re truly “soul people,” we will be prepared for what’s coming afterwards. The soul can be measured and realized by the way and to the extent that we are primarily motivated in all our life choices, to return to the infinite, to return to G-d. Our soul is part of G-d, so to the extent we make our connection to G-d real and important in this life, that’s what we will experience.
- The soul can be realized also, to the extent that we feel, inside ourselves, a feeling for the highest levels, to the extent that we experience what is our “summons” in life. To the extent that we experience what it is that we are here to do to make it better for the rest of the world, and what we’re driven to do to manifest our own purpose in life, and to the extent we experience our complete immersion in the here and now, and to the extent we express our unique, individuated selves, and to the extent that we are living in a state of amazement of all that is Divine in the world, that is the level to which we can realize our souls.
Also, I believe that it’s when we’re able to feel deeply, to be a healthy, deep-feeling person, that’s when we become a powerful soul person. We see and feel a strong desire to have nothing to do with what’s going on now, a strong yearning for something that’s not going on now, but for an ability to do the extraordinary instead. It’s a desire to do things which are completely out of our range, but yet we do them effortlessly.
These are soul expressions, soul experiences and some of the soul drives we need to know understand our own soul.
I’m going to talk about Abraham, from various sources, the Arizal and others, discussing the root of his soul.
Abraham is a person who bridges heaven and earth. One of the Sefirot he represents is Yesod, the Sefira of connection, which makes him the one to connect Heaven and Earth.
In the seven generations prior to Abraham, each one became more distant from the Shechina, all the way through the seven heavens. Abraham and the subsequent generations managed to bring the Shechina back down to earth, but he was the first of them.
Abraham was the patriarch, the father of our nation, as Avraham Avinu, Abraham our Father. He is also considered to be the patron of all converts, and usually a convert to Judaism is given a Jewish name, including bat or bar Avraham, meaning the daughter or the son of Abraham for that reason.
The three Patriarchs came to this world to rectify the three primal sins of Adam in the garden. Abraham specifically came to rectify the sin of idol worship. He was an expert, with a tractate containing four hundred chapters, based on his expertise on the subject. Issac rectified murder and Jacob rectified lust, the other cardinal sins along with idolatry.
Abraham was told to “go where I will tell you to go,” without being told by G-d exactly where he should be going, but to have faith, and to trust he would be directed towards the land of Israel. On a deeper level, the Hebrew words Abraham was given also mean, “go into yourself,” in order to be the primal “giver” in the world.
Abraham is called “the Hebrew,” or “Ivri” in the Hebrew language, a word meaning, “from the other side.” His experience was unique, and might be described, at the time, as “me vs the entire world.” His position gave him the ability to stand up, single-handedly, against the world, by virtue of the fact he is our Patriarch.
Monotheism, or belief in G-d, was introduced into the world by Abraham. His name was originally Avram, and then the letter Hey, giving the sound of the letter “h” was added to his name when he was circumcised at the age of one hundred years. His circumcision provided a level of perfection or wholeness, and thereafter he began to receive prophesy in a conscious way, rather than an unconscious way.
Abraham’s entire life was an explication of the Sefira of Chesed. Everything he did articulated what the Sephira of Chesed is all about. He was the “merkava,” or the “seat” of Chesed in the world.
We are in the midst of a deluge, a flood, a metaphysical and very real plague-like flood here in the streets of Israel. And it seems, by the way things are possibly going, that in a short time the streets of the world as well, people want to kill Jews simply because we exist, for no other reason at all.
Don’t buy all that other propaganda about territorial disputes, including the Temple Mount, or any of that other stuff. It’s all just to play upon the diplomatic sensibilities of the world.
It’s simply that we are Jewish. That’s our cry. That’s why they want to kill us, and the same thing is true for Christians. It’s the Christian’s cry as well.
We’re at a time now where we have to pay attention to what the Torah, the Bible is telling us in this parasha of Noach or Noah. The energy of the parasha of Noah is to our advantage right now because as we all know, it’s about a flood Noah’s Ark was destined to save that seedling of humans and animals from being completely wiped-out by a worldwide flood at that time.
The parallels are strikingly clear right now, in Israel and in other countries around us, and all over the world, including Europe and America, everywhere. Right now, we ALL have to get ourselves into the Ark.
In the past, Noah’s Ark was a place of safety, a shelter from the storm, from the flood threatening to wipe out everyone and everything that wasn’t inside the Ark.
So, we need to figure out how to build our Ark and how to get inside it, to save our lives and to be protected from the flood. So, what I’d like to share with you now is a list of what I believe to be ways we can create Arks in our own lives, to save us from the flood. The Ark is the antidote to the dire danger these current floods are creating.
- We need to jump into the Ark of being constructive, as opposed to the flood, which is destructive. We need to build ourselves an Ark which is celebrating LIFE, as opposed to the flood, which celebrates death and murder. We need to get ourselves into the Ark of G-d’s real, true Word, as opposed to murder in the name of G-d.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of being in-sync with our Holy Land here, as opposed to being out-of-sync with it, which is the flood we have threatening us as well.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of Shabbat, and realize that everything that’s happening in our lives is coming from above, as opposed to the flood of thinking that the strength of our hands is really going to save us.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of Prayer, saying to G-d, “I cannot, Hashem… I can only do it if you help me.” We need to save ourselves from the flood of saying we are the ones who determine what will happen with our own fate.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of having true pleasure in the service of G-d, and in the life force of Torah and mitzvoth, as opposed to the robotic, mechanical service in the world of the flood.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of understanding, “I am a wealthy person, an immense treasure chest, full of spiritual gifts I have amassed over the last few weeks of holidays, as opposed to thinking now it’s just the same-old, same-old schedule of the past.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of knowing we are a member of an eternal, invincible people, as opposed to the mindset, the flood-type thinking that we are vulnerable to everyone’s whims and horrible designs against us.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of knowing that every little bit of goodness and overcoming of evil we do in our lives moves worlds and elicits the support of millions and billions of people rooting for us, as opposed to falling into the flood of despair.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of radical belief, 24/7, that G-d is running our lives, no matter what we think is the cause of everything that’s going on, and that it’s coming from us, as opposed to thinking everything is by chance.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of knowing that every minute of our lives is precious, as opposed to the flood of wanting to kill time.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of trust in G-d, and knowing that G-d will come through for me, just as he has endless numbers of times before, as opposed to thinking that it’s all happenstance.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of knowing, “I am a soul and I have control of all the animal parts inside of me,” just like the animals in Noah’s Ark, as opposed to thinking, “I am a human animal who can only succeed with the laws of the jungle.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of encouragement and love for everybody we see and connect with in our lives, as opposed to the flood of hate and depression.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of seeing others with the eyes of G-d, with compassion and with vision of who they can be, as opposed to seeing others as infidels, not worthy of life.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of what G-d said to Noah, “Come into the Ark and make that light shine, meaning the teva, the holy words of Torah and prayer. We must make that shine by going deeply into it, as opposed to the flood of thinking that everything is purposeless and lifeless, recital without any meaning.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of seeing goodness into being, as opposed to the opposite, which is seeing evil manifest.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of unifying with all the good, as opposed to the opposite.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of the good inclination inside ourselves, prompted by the spice of Torah, to counteract that flood of evil inclination, the Yetzer Hara.
- We need to get ourselves into the Ark of the mikvah, of purifying ourselves, to counteract the flood of impurity.
- We need to get ourselves into the act of being givers, to save ourselves from the flood of takers.
- We need to get ourselves into the act of 40 days of shelter, of going into a process and sticking with it until it gets done, just like the 40 days of the flood, as opposed to being exposed to whatever may happen in our lives and not completing them.
- We need to get into the Ark of seeing the good in people, even if it’s one little, tiny piece of good that will outshine all the bad inside of them, as opposed to the flood of the opposite.
- We need to get into the Ark of making sacred space of who we are, when we are, how we are, with whom we are, as opposed to seeing the exact opposite.
- We need to get into the Ark of talking soul and heart talk to other people, as opposed to talking hate talk, talking senseless externalities.
- We need to get into the Ark of seeing people as souls, as opposed to seeing them as enemies and something to be killed.
- We need to get into the Ark of the house of study and the house of prayer, as opposed to the flood of the opposite.
- We need to get into the Ark of modesty, as opposed to the flood of flagrancy.
- We need to get into the Ark of knowing that there is nothing else in the world, except for G-d.
Now what I’d like to speak about has to do with the High Holidays, which are almost upon us.
I’d like to discuss a few tools of Divine Service, so here are a few introductory points:
I think it’s important to know about these tools called Teshuva, Tefila and Tsedaka, Penitence, Prayer and Charity, the “big three” that are so prominent in the High Holiday prayer books. Those are the three things we are told to do in order to avert the harsh decree.
My intention is to know and to teach the pshat level, the simple, straightforward understanding, on the one hand. Much of it comes from my own background and also Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s Handbook of Jewish Thought. And I bring to it the deeper, inner understanding of Kabbalah and Chassidut, to round out the tools.
I’ll start with Teshuva, or a righteous return to G-d and to ourselves. Here are a few points explaining what the mitzvah of Teshuva is all about, beginning with a person having an assumption, an understanding that there is a divine source of morality and truth with the ability to pardon wrongs done within that morality and truth.
As opposed to other approximate levels of morality and truth, including the popular conceptions of Western society and other religious beliefs, as a believing Jewish person I have an absolute truth to rely on, G-d’s word to rely on, which of course has been interpreted many ways.
But the fact that divine morality exits allows me to measure myself against that and try to return to that, pardoned from wrongs by the G-d that brought us all into existence. All of this would be lacking if there was no absolute truth, only approximate truth that changes with the times and necessities of society.
The power of Teshuva is in the fact that it was created before Creation itself, implying that it’s more important than Creation in some ways, and also it has the ability to return us to the purpose of Creation. Teshuva has the ability to override the divine trait of strict justice because G-d is looking for our good and the good of the world. G-d, therefore, is very long-suffering and patient, waiting for us to re-enter the realm of morality and truth as he sets it out.
Essentially G-d turns a patient eye to our misbehaviors as we move towards Teshuva.
Teshuva has the ability to act retroactively. You might ask the question, “How can we undo the damage done by sin?” Some things cannot be undone.
For example, if a person is born of an illicit relationship, that child will be living testimony for that the rest of their life. But, the idea of Teshuva “undoes” the original intent. When we change ourselves we have a different intent, a different intention, and it relates back to our original intention, undoing it back then.
Since I’m a new me, you can’t judge the new me for a wrong intention I had back then as the old me. Only G-d can see that I’m a new person of course, since humans need to judge based on what they can see with their eyes only, with some consideration given to their capacity to change.
We also have to understand that the power of Teshuva is that a person can sin and be wicked their entire life and reverse their entire history in one minute. There’s a famous story of Rabbe Lazer ben, whose life was exactly that way. He did Teshuva at the very last minute of his life and became known as a Rebbe, because he did Teshuva in that way.
So that’s the power of Teshuva. It will always be accepted, and you can always reverse a situation whenever it may happen.
The practice of Teshuva involves four elements, basically.
1) It involves regret, which is shame. There is a place for feeling shame. There is a power, a healing power involved when it’s done in the right way.
2) The confession of what a person did has a certain power as well, the confession to G-d and the confession to people we have wronged.
3) And there is the resolve to not do the thing again. This is something we address on Yom Kippur, when we get to a place where G-d testifies, so to speak, that we won’t do it again. That is the place we want to reach.
4) And finally, there’s changing our ways. We put ourselves in a different environment so we won’t be influenced in the same way and tempted to be caused to do whatever we did once again. We might change our lifestyle and work on things that will hopefully influence others as well, bring others to G-d. That’s a big part of Teshuva.
Teshuva involves different kinds of intentions and different levels of intentions, on a scale of higher to lower. Probably the highest level of intention is Teshuva from love, meaning a person doesn’t change his ways because he’s afraid of punishment, of hell (which is another level of Teshuva), but because he feels bad that he didn’t take advantage of his relationship with G-d. This type of Teshuva elicits results which are much higher, raising up the sins a person commits to become merits instead.
There’s Teshuva that comes from the intention of having responsibility for oneself, owing up, recognizing the seriousness of going off the path, and recognizing that Teshuva is really my own chance to make a difference.
There are decreasing levels in the timing of Teshuva, meaning we might realize immediately what we did wrong and do Teshuva immediately. But some people spend their whole lives doing Teshuva; every day they think about what they did wrong and they go through those four steps, so they are constantly in Teshuva. That’s probably the highest level, in terms of timing.
When Teshuva is done with the same trial and tribulation that caused a person to go off the path in the first place it’s another high level of Teshuva. Also, it’s better to do Teshuva when young than when old.
Another level I’ve already mentioned is Teshuva done from fear of future suffering, and another is Teshuva done from the unbearable reality of present suffering, especially when one is old. Perhaps the lowest level is doing Teshuva right before passing away, due to the fear of what’s coming afterwards.
But all these levels of Teshuva are effective, 100% effective and acceptable.
There are many obstacles to doing Teshuva. One is when a person makes a choice to sin with this thought in mind, “I’ll sin now and do Teshuva afterwards.” Another is when a person separates themselves from helping out other people in the community, or disrespects people who are meant to be respected. There are also people who make fun of the commandments, and those who seek to get honor at the expense of others, gossip about them or suspect them. These are things that can keep a person from doing Teshuva, and they hold a person back.
Teshuva is something that needs to be done with an understanding that we should never give up, no matter how far they have fallen, no matter how deep the despair may be. We have to understand that we are in the place of a Baal Teshuva, a Master of Return, and even in the place a Perfect Righteous One cannot stand in such a place.
We’re meant to not remind a person who has done Teshuva that he or she was once a sinner. And Teshuva is something the entire Redemption will be dependent upon. That’s why all the prophets address themselves to having the nation come back to Teshuva.
So, that’s all pretty much the straightforward level of what Teshuva is all about.
In terms of a deeper level, Teshuva is a return to oneself. It’s a return to the essence of who you are. And it begins when a person realizes his life is somehow meaningless, or futile or just some form of personal exile. No matter how outwardly successful a person may seem to be, it’s all sort of a self-betrayal.
When you understand that you are living a contradiction and you see the absurdity of your world (a lot of great comedians make fun of us doing exactly that, and that’s why people love their jokes so much) you begin to realize that self-contradiction is wide-spread.
So when the Master of Return, the Baal Teshuva recognizes that and does something about it, they begin to reconnect to who they are and who they want to be. And their return is the return of a true master, a master of response, a Baal Teshuva, that’s the name given to them. And that type of person achieves unity of character, including their mind and their emotions and their actions unified with their eternal self, their G-dly self on the inside. That’s how they regain their self-integrity in the most beautiful and in the highest possible way.
In this way they open themselves up to what is probably the highest level of happiness that a human being can feel. And it’s why the happiest times of the year happen after Teshuva time, after the 10 days of Teshuva and then Yom Kippur, followed by Succot, the happiest time. It’s because you can regain your self-integrity, and regain yourself in the process.
We need tools to be able to get to that place, to figure out who you are, where you’ve been, what’s important to you, what you look like in the eyes of truth, the eyes of your future life and the eyes of your soul family, even your own eyes looking down and really seeing yourself. This is how we gain the perspective of authenticity, and focus on a higher level and what that level can be as you look at the essence of your life and turn it into something much, much higher, more YOU, more essential and more G-dly than ever before.