In 5769 (2009), four years ago, as we read this parashah, we celebrated our Brit Or, our communal Covenant of Light. I would like to share with you again the posting I shared on the 1st anniversary of our ceremony.
The text begins with the lighting of the menorah after the Tabernacle was fully dedicated and anointed. The Sages teach that the golden menorah’s pure oil lamps did not shine ordinary light: the menorah allowed the celestial light that was created from darkness and chaos on the very first day of creation, even before there was a sun and moon, to beam into this world. This is the light of spiritual sight that allows us to see through veils, from one end of the universe to the other.
The specific word of our text “b’ha’alotkha” tells us that in lighting the menorah we are “raising it up” so that we, too, are elevated and we add light to the world. When the text tells us that the light shines toward the “panim” of the menorah, the Hebrew hints that our faces shine while the inner light of our soul is kindled.
In spiritual community, we are like the lights of the menorah, elevating each other to reflect different colors of the infinite light back to each other. We shine our light toward each other’s panim – faces- and we shine our light into each other’s hearts, our penimiut - our insides.
The light generated by all of us together is brighter than the sum of our individual lights. And so we together focus and magnify the light of Divinity, bringing love and healing to our world.
With blessing for deep, heart-wise meditation on the mystery of the menorah’s light,
Based on the teachings of the Netivot Shalom, the late Slonimer Rebbe of Jerusalem.(1911-2000)
The Shulhan Arukh, the Jewish Code of Law compiled by mystic Rabbi Joseph Caro in 16th century Sfat, teaches us that in the beginning of the nigh of the 14th of Nissan (the night before the Seder), one checks for hametz by the light of a candle, in holes and cracks in every place that one usually enter with hametz.
The Rabbis teach us that just as leavened bread is puffed up, so we have puffed up egos. Our lack of simplicity and sincerity blocks our relationship to Sacredness. The practice of Pesah is to remove all the hametz from our lives – both the grain hametz, as well as our inner hametz.
There are 3 steps to Bi’ur Hametz – removing and eliminating hametz (these are fouind in most siddurim – prayer books – and at the beginning of many Hagadot):
Bedika – searching for it
Bitul – annulling and renouncing ownership
S’reifa – burning, followed by a second declaration of bitul hametz
The Netivot Shalom, reminds us that all the aspects of hametz exist within us. This hametz is the potential for “evil” – koah ha-ra – that is inside us. [Evil is a challenging word that comes up often in rabbinic texts – perhaps it is best thought of as that which pulls us off our intended path or that which separates us from our highest self and from God.] There is hametz that is readily identifiable and knowable by us. There is hametz of which we are not aware. There is the hametz, the actual leavened bread, and the s’or the leavening agent. There is hametz that is absorbed into our vessel and hametz that transfers the puffed-up quality when it comes in contact with something (or someone) else. Finally, there is the mashehu of hametz: unlike regular situations where, e.g. a small amount of milk is cancelled out by a much larger quantity of chicken soup, even the tiniest imaginable nano particle of hametz must be removed, lest its effect reverberate throughout all the levels of our being. .
R Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk teaches that to be in relationship with the Divine, we must, not only behave fittingly, but we must erase the “root of evil, of that which separates us from God from our heart.
We must search for hametz by using a candle. The letters for candle – n- e- r – hint at the soul nefesh/ ruah. Our soul helps us to find the hametz. According to an earlier Slonimer rabbi, the soul is our teacher. Proverbs 22:27 tells us that the soul is Hashem’s lamp, searching all the chambers of our innards. Our soul will direct us toward that inner point of essential and particular importance to the soul-work that we have come to this Earlthplane to do. Proverbs 6:23 tells us that the mitzvah is the candle and the Torah its light. Torah, and holy instruction, too, will help us know when we are off the path, illuminating the way of return, our special springtime Teshuvah.
The only way to destroy hametz is by this fire. In preparation for the kedushah – holiness – of Passover, just as we will find all the last crumbs of bread and cookies and crackers in the holes and cracks, and burn them up with a physical fire, so we search out all of our inner hametz and burn it up with the holy fire of focused awareness and intention, and of our desire and longing for Closeness. We search our inner nooks and crannies so we can nullify the very root of that which blocks us from full presence during the sacred season of Pesah.
The Ana B'khoach prayer is attributed to R. Nehuniah b. Hakanah - based on the mystical 42 letter name of the Divine, this name is related to the creation and thus is an intercessory prayer. Traditional Hebrew and literal English translations of the source lines are provided at the beginning of each paragraph.
אָנָּא בְּכֹֽחַ גְּדֻלַּת יְמִינְךָ תַּתִּיר צְרוּרָה. Please with the strength of Your right hand’s greatness, release the entanglements. Once again we Pray to Your loving kindness, to guide us, to find a way to untie the tangled up mess we have gotten ourselves into. You know that this earth-world always is full of suffering. Somehow we become numb to the suffering. And, then, our hearts are wrenched open when the Children of Abraham trade rockets and bombs, destabilizing the fragile accords that hold the Land of the Prophets from self-destruction.
קַבֵּל רִנַּת עַמְּךָ, שַׂגְּבֵֽנוּ, טַהֲרֵֽנוּ, נוֹרָא. Receive the song of Your people, strenghen us, purify us, Awesome One. O Sublime One, we want to sing to you again, together, in Hebrew and Arabic and English and Aramaic and Farsi. Awesome One, cleanse us of fear of violence and fear of each other.
נָא גִבּוֹר, דּוֹרְשֵׁי יִחוּדְךָ, כְּבָבַת שָׁמְרֵם. Please, Strong One, guard those who seek Your Oneness like the pupil of an eye. Strong One, care for each of your creatures who are terrified: the thousands of Israeli’s huddling in shelters fearing rocket attacks; the thousands of Gazans, cowering, seeking to find distance from their homes and mosques as bombs approach the rocket launchers hidden nearby.
בָּרְכֵם, טַהֲרֵם, רַחֲמֵם, צִדְקָתְךָ תָּמִיד גָּמְלֵם. Bless them, cleans them, have compassion upon them, Your righterousness alwasy recompenses them. Bless us all. We need Your love to wash us clean. Let justice pour over us like waves; let righteousness flow like a moving stream. Let a knowing of Your Oneness and our profound interconnectedness fill the hearts of everyone - in the Middle East, in Washington D.C, at the UN, everywhere.
חֲסִין קָדוֹשׁ, בְּרוֹב טוּבְךָ, נַהֵל עֲדָתֶֽךָ. Powerful and Holy Divinity guide Your contregation with Your expansive goodness. Guide us through this confusing and conflicted time with Your goodness, so we not default into pro-them and pro-us thinking. Clearly we need Sacred Guidance in how to respond from our highest selves, to see the suffering in each other, and work as a united community to mitigate this pain.
יָחִיד גֵּאֶה, לְעַמְּךָ פְּנֵה, זוֹכְרֵי קְדֻשָּׁתֶֽךָ. Exalted Unity, turn toward Your people, those who note Your sanctity. Unity, turn toward all Your peoples, help us remember that, as Yisra-El, as Jews, our directive is to live as a holy people, a kingdom of the priesthood.
שַׁוְעָתֵֽנוּ קַבֵּל, וּשְׁמַע צַעֲקָתֵֽנוּ, יוֹדֵֽעַ תַּעֲלֻמוֹת. Accept our outcries, hear our shouting, You know the hidden dimensions. Receive our supplications, Hear the shouts of all - as you heard Ishmael’s silent cry "ba-asher who sham" - from exactly where he sat alone in the desert, dying of thirst because his mother could not see the well of life-giving potential that was waiting to be seen nearby. Help us find that hidden solution that will seem obvious once it has become known. There are so many secrets, so much hidden from an ordinary person’s knowledge - we depend on You to see though all the veils of deception and teach us to seek right thought, right action and right speech.
בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד. Blessed be the Name of Your dominion’s glory forever. Blessed be Your Honor throughout time and space. Let Your Annanei HaKavod, your clouds of glory, the Amud he-Anan, the pillar of cloud revert back to its original source as the guiding beacon that led the Israelites as they wondered in the wilderness. We are all wondering in a wilderness of confusion and pain. This would be a good time for You to show up with a miracle.
Beginning this week, the Jewish calendar brings us into a structured two month process of conscious preparation for the High Holy Day season. To be ready for renewal and rebirth at Rosh HaShanah, first we are encouraged to mourn while deeply feeling and acknowledging our brokenness – in body, mind and soul. By awakening to our suffering – personal and historical, we can create an opening to profound self-awareness. When the shadow is encountered and embraced, our fear loses some of its power over our psyche. Where is my grief this year? Where are my hurt, pain and brokenness? Why am I afraid to embrace the next phase of my journey? What is holding me back?
We study this shadow in our weekly Torah readings from the Book of Numbers and we engage this shadow by the core metaphor of the destruction of Jerusalem. On the 17th of Tamuz the walls of Jerusalem were breeched – 3 weeks later on the 9th of Av (Tisha b’Av) the Temple itself was overrun and destroyed. This period, during the hottest, most fiery time of the year, is called Bein ha-Meitzarim /Between the Narrow Straights; it is bookended by fasting and marked by taking on the behaviors of one in mourning. How has my sacred sanctuary of self been overrun and violated – from without and from within? What mourning has so far been incomplete?
The Rabbis teach us that while the First Temple was brought down due to idol worship, the Second Temple fell because of senseless hatred. What are my idols? What keeps me from love and treating all others as myself?
Importantly, at the end of these three weeks of grief and of connecting with fear and anger, Tradition also assures us that Redemption, hope, transformation and healing burst forth from destruction: the messiah will be born on Tisha b’Av! And Leonard Cohen famously reminds us “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Psalm 118: 5 teaches us “min ha-meitzar karati Yah, anani va-merhav Yah / from the narrowness I called out to You, You answered me with expansiveness.” In the fire and heat of summer we experience that stagnant constriction can be released into the vastness of potential for change. Where in my body do I experience tightness? What is this tension telling me? Can I imagine what letting go into an unknown future might be like?
And, when we arrive at the full moon, T”u b’Av /15th of Av, we celebrate love, wholeness and the quest for partnership. Together, like the daughters of Jerusalem, we go out into the fields dressed in white to find our beloveds. What are my dreams for relationship? How will I partner with the Divine in bringing Tikkun Olam – repair of our broken world?
With blessing that our hokhmat lev /heart wisdom finds new depths of realization this season,
I also share with you a teaching from Rabbi Marcia Prager on the spiritual meaning of Tisha b’Av:
Tisha b'Av is a time of grief, yet our Tisha b'Av gathering also reminds us that hope can spring from destruction in surprising ways.
Many people do not understand why we should mourn the destruction of the Temple, because they do not particularly want to see the physical Temple rebuilt or (G-d forbid) sacrifices resume, and life has gone on in a way that makes that past seem irrelevant.
However is important to understand the psycho-spiritual function of the Temple, for when the Beis HaMikdash (Sacred House/Temple) still stood, this was the central resident address of the Shekhinah.
What this meant was that we used the innermost sacred fulcrum of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, as that place where the Cohanim could hold open the portal between the material world and the upper realms beyond time and space. This holy work of holding open the channel through which G-d energy flows enabled the shefa, the Divine Flow, to flow into and vivify the world. Through this holy work we ourselves could touch the Divine realms and influence the G-d -flow to be strong, loving and compassionate. Being able to channel Shekhinah energy into ourselves and the world in this way was no small thing.
When the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, and the sacred service of the Cohanim and Levi'im was ended, we were utterly devastated as a people. In our grief, we began the practice of rising at midnight to sit by the ruins. We rubbed our foreheads with ashes as we gathered to mourn the destruction and exile of our people and to pray for restoration.
With the revolutionary rabbis as guides, we also began to learn how to use the practices of mitzvot and both personal and communal t'fliiah (prayer) to hold open the channel for the Divine within our hearts.
The story continues: Centuries later we embraced a fresh grief: The murder of Jewish men, women and children by the Catholic Inquisition, and the exile of the Jewish communities of Spain.
Exiles from Spain grappled with the confusion and pain of this new exile. Some regrouped in Sfat, in northern Israel, to heal and question. The focus turned inward. We wanted to know why we kept experiencing destruction and exile, and if there was a lesson we were supposed to learn. We came to understand that exile is not only a political condition but also is a spiritual condition.
Understanding that the human being is the 'temple' in need of restoration and repair, we began to teach that the Tikkun Olam (Cosmic Repair) that we sought in the world would only come as a result of each of us mending our own internal exile.
We realized that we had to melt the iron wall of hurt and sorrow that we have each built to shield us from our pain and loss, because this wall separates us from the holy spark that is alive in our hearts. This is what we mean when we say that "Shekhinah is in Exile" - that the inner spark is hidden and blocked.
There is Exile of the Shekhinah happening for each of us, for our people as a whole, and for the entire world.
When we are in pain, and we push aside the holy spark, this is the condition that we call Hurban - Destruction of the Temple. If we can't feel that this is happening, if we don't even notice and have numbed the pain or replaced it with rage, this is a sign that the Hurban - the destruction and exile - has overtaken. But when we do begin to reconnect and to feel the pain in a safe way, this brings healing and the beginning of redemption.
Rumi, the great Sufi poet, lived in a land filled with the ruins of past empires. Often treasures were buried beneath the rubble of palaces and tombs. He wrote: "Under every ruin lies hope for a treasure. Why not seek the treasure of God in the ruin of the devastated heart."
You may wish to reflect on ways in which a tragedy, genuinely grieved and mourned, yet still acknowledged as true tragedy, nevertheless can unfold a blessing, or a positive outcome later on, and how the process of grief and healing works. There can be a healing of the past hurt and a renewal of hope. This is an aspect of the experience of redemption.
As we deeply enter our grief, may we also open to the redemptive possibilities of the healing that can come and re-discover hope, promise and the living Presence moving within and among us.
As we celebrate the new moonth (Rosh Hodesh) of Sivan and for the holyday of Shavuot, we are immersed in cycles of natural time and super-natural time. Our Torah portions, having just ended Leviticus and begining Numbers, immerse us in the spiritual terrain of the natural world – last Shabbat we are in the rarefied air of the mountain – BeHar – and next Shabbat, just before Shavuot, we are in the wildness of desertscape - BeMidbar.
Yayikra/Leviticus 25:2-11: When you enter the land that I assign you, the land shall observe a sabbath for YHVH. Six years you may sow your field and prune your vineyard gathering in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath for YHVH: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. But you may eat whatever the land produces during its sabbath..... You shall count off 7 cycles of years 7 times – a total of 49 years. Then you shall sound the shofar throughout your land and hallow the 50th year. Proclaim freedom throughout the land and to all its inhabitants. It is a jubilee for you…!
We live immersed in cycles of seven: 7 days in the week; 7 days of creation; 7 year cycles of rest for the land; 7 divine emanations (sefirot) that manifest in the physical world. In the mysical view, by these cycles of 7, we are linked to earthbound dimensions. We are so accustomed to living by the structure of the 7 day week, that we forget that there is nothing “natural” about this way of structuring time. Days are earth cycles but weeks do not correspond to moon cycles or sun cycles. By Divine example instruction, the 7th becomes a time of resting from ordinary living, bringing meaning and definition to living in sacred time. We organize our days and the earth’s years by Heavenly example.
By counting 7’s, Consciousness creates a structure of holiness – kedusha – that allows us to rest and reconnect with our essential selves. Ah… Shabbat!
The description in Parashat Behar teaches us this: through our intention and practice of counting 7’s we can receive a “Shabbat ladonai” a sabbath for IsWasWillBe, a designated time for god-ing, for rest and renewal, for nourishing ourselves with the Present – to use the metaphor of Leviticus, neither harvesting old growth nor planting new seeds.
Perhaps this is enough of a spiritual path! Most of the time, I am happy to stay with the cycles of renewal within my embodied existence.
The Torah, however, does not stop with the 7day Shabbat cycles. We receive a gift of another level beyond embodied time, when we go beyond beyond nature to the realm of the super-natural. We can go beyond 7 or past 7X7. We can go to the place of the 8th or 50th! Here we can contact that rest-that-is-beyond-rest, divinity-beyond-ordinary-godliness – perhaps more than renewal, it might be called a re-birthing.
A few weeks ago we spoke about getting to the level of the 8th – to shimini – the day the Tabernacle was dedicated when our preparations created the conditions for the Divine fire to descend and ignite the sacrificial flame. This level is beyond ordinary-time/space-bound reality.
In both portions Emor and Behar, we receive an even more profound gift: the of counting 7 cycles of 7 to get past 49 to the 50th gate. This happens twice: the Yoveil-Jubilee (see above) and Shavuot (Leviticus 23:15-16).
We count seven years seven times to complete 49 years. Then, like at Sinai, a shofar sounds to proclaim freedom/release throughout the land and to her inhabitants – it is a jubilee, each family shall return to its ancestral holdings. In the 50th year the cosmic reset button is reset and we get a fresh start.
We count seven weeks seven times to complete 49 days of the Omer, then we arrive at the 50th day and bring a new gift – minha hadasha - to Being. Our Tradition teaches us that this 50th day is Shavuot, the day Torah was given at Sinai, the moment of revelation, our personal opening to the Oneness, the day of our wedding to the Holy One. Union and Revelation simultaneously – ultimate freedom and release.
In the mystical -ethical tradition the 7 cycles of weeks leading up to receiving Torah – the time of Counting the Omer, became a time of self-examination and of refining our character traits in preparation for this Revelation and Oneness.
[A hint from Kabbalah: The 50th gate, the 8th sefirah is Bina, the place of Teshuvah where we can be granted the release of a new start, of wiping the slate clean. This is the place where help comes to those who take the first step (The Talmud Yoma 38b teaches haba letaheir mesay’in lo). Bina, the Upper Mother is the womb into which the seed of Hokhmah is implanted. This place of 8 or 50 is the palace of freedom, of all potential, of discernment and birthing. ]
And….all of this takes place in the Mountain (BeHar – last week’s Torah portion) and in the Wilderness (BeMidbar- next week’s Torah portion) of our heart. We climb to the heights while we sit with ambiguity, fear and not-knowing. [And this particular year, all is conjoined to the new moon of Sivan – so we are on the mountain and in the Wilderness while basking in the dark side of the moon, the place of moonthly regeneration and renewal !!]
The verses about the Jubilee – the Yoveil – by teach us how to live in integrity. Once we have become conscious of Divinity by living in cycles of holy time, by honoring time for god-ing each week and for taking care of the earth in yearly cycles, we are reminded that the earth ha-aretz– and our earthbound lives, our artziut – are not ours but are G!d’s. The way to live with trust is by knowing deeply that I cannot ultimately own or possess land or another person. We must neither oppress one another nor oppress the land.
The gift of the 50th gate is not as much transporting us to another level of reality so we can escape our natural lives, but to open all the channels for the flow of kedusha, sacredness, from that which is Beyond into our “ordinary” lives.
I bless us that we take time during these last few days of Counting the Omer, the days leading up to Shavuot, to consciously connect to opening ourselves as channels of Divine Bounty flowing and nourishing this world. The freedom we spoke about and began to experience at Passover as we left Egypt, culminates when we reach the 50th Gate of Shavuot. May we be prepared to receive reveltation!
With blessing that we each are prepared to receive revelation,
During this time of year we are engaged in a spiritual path with two tracks: Counting the Omer (see separate teaching) and reading the Book of Leviticus. These are parallel pathways that take us deeper into our relationship with the Sacred as we discover the Divine in our daily lives.
Over the past few weeks of Torah readings, we have been immersed in the book of Leviticus and our journey has been deeply affected by the story of the ecstatic spiritual death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu (Parasha Shimini –Leviticus 10:1-7) For me, this story is the fulcrum of the book of Leviticus with its, at times, painfully-exhaustive descriptions of the sacrificial system and the code of Priestly conduct. We have studied together the attraction of the Holy, and its dangers, and the traditional rabbinic concerns that we develop the spiritual capacities to both have immediate experiences of the Divine and also to be able to come back into our daily lives with the inspiration and power that such experiences give us.
In our learning, we experienced Nadav and Avihu’s youthful exuberance of running into the Holy Place with their spontaneous offering and receiving the ultimate spiritual attainment of melting fully into the Divine. In doing so, however, they died to this world.
And so the next detailed sections of Torah have to do with childbirth and menstruation, and skin ailments – all very important boundaries between inside and out, between life and death, between self and other.
In Parashah Aharei Mot, We are bought back into the connection with the Nadav and Avihu story by the line “And the Holy One spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons who came close before the YHVH and died”. Immediately, we are told how and when we can come close as the detailed instructions for the High Priest on Yom Kippur are enumerated. And even more remarkably, we are told how to come close by living holy lives. Leviticus 19, the heart of the Vayikra, is called, the Holiness Code. “Be holy for I am Holy…Do not hate others in your hearts…Love your fellow beings as yourselves.”
Our Tradition teaches, through the holy allegorical story of Nadav and Avihu, that theirs is not to be our path. Rather, we are to be like the angels in Ezekiel’s vision, running and returning, running and returning – ratzo va-shov. We might get so close that we can feel the flame, so high we can almost fly, but not so close as to burn up and not so high as to fall and be harmed. We must learn how to bring the experiences of being close and high back into our ordinary-extraordinary lives to do the work of tikkun olam and make the world a better place, to the work of bringing kedushah, sacredness, into each day, each act, each interaction.
Aharei Mot, after the virtual experience of death, we learn how to live as embodied spiritual beings. We go closer and come back and then closer still. Higher and then come back down and then higher still. Moving in - going out. The angels ran in and returned. We go up and we come down. We go up – romemu – and we come down v’histakhavu. We go up – romemu – and we come down v’histakhavu (Psalm 99:5&9 – words that we sing during the Kabbalat Shabbat service).
So too, the lesson of the Omer period is to bring depth and meaning into our daily lives. We expand and integrate – measure for measure, step by step, day by day. As we count the Omer, each day is unique, each rung more profound. Each day is counted and is matchless. Each day we find a special way to bring holiness into our essential beings. We stay grounded in our daily practice as we bring the flow from Hesed into Malkhut, from the “higher” realms into our embodied existence.
The practice of Sefirat ha-Omer is one of counting and noting each day between Passover and Shavuot. There are 7 weeks between these two Holydays, each imbued with the spiritual essence of one of the sefirot.
This practice is particularly relevant to our community which is dedicated to the cultivation of Wisdom of Heart. Psalm 90:12 teaches us: Limnot yameinu keyn hoda, v’navi l’vav hokhma: through counting our days, we come to a knowing understanding and cultivate a heart of wisdom.
In the mystical system of Kabbalah, each of the sefirot is a Divine trait or emanation that brings light in measured stages from the Infinite (Ein Sof) into the finite – our world. These traits are not just “out there” in the esoteric world of the godfield, but are deeply embedded in our souls and our beings. The sefirot are vessels of light that direct the flow of Bounty and Vitality into our world. They are the pathways via which the Holy One gods the world, continually renewing creation.
The lower 7 of the sefirot are related to manifestation in the physical plane. They are divided into three columns, the right column representing expansion or outward flowing energy, the left representing contraction or inward-directed motion, and the central column is the balance between the right and left. Using the vertical metaphor of moving downward as we come from the most refined and ethereal toward the more dense physical existence, we move from Hesed (unbounded lovingkindness – right) to Gevurah (strength, might, boundaries – left), to Tiferet (beauty, balance, truth, integration – middle) to Netzah (eternity, endurance – right) to Hod (majesty, splendor – left) to Yesod (foundation – middle) and finally to Malkhut (kingdom, Divine Presence, Sh’khina, manifestation – middle).
During the period of the Omer, not only is each week lived in the energy of one of the sefirot, but each day of the week also is related to a sefirah. So, the second day of the Omer would be the day of Gevurah in the week of Hesed, and the 8th day of the Omer would be the day of Hesed in the week of Gevurah. Our task in contemplation is to discern the difference as it affects our current concerns. Thus, the Omer period is a wonderful opportunity to be immersed in the study of the sefirot and to meditate on their meaning in one’s life as a deep and profound pathway toward spiritual growth.
The Jewish mystics consider that each of the 49 days of the Omer presents its unique opportunity to unclog any residue that our imperfections might have brought into the channel that each of the sefirot represents. Through the practice of counting the Omer we pray that these channels of Divine Flow and Bounty be opened and freely-flowing to bring healing to the brokenness of our world. So may it be!
If this introduction has enticed you to want to know more, let’s study together!
Rabbi SaraLeya May 3 2012 – 12 Iyar 5772 27th day of the Omer: the day of Yesod in the week of Netzah
Heyrut / freedom is the theme of this holyday. How deeply can we ask these questions this year?: What is my freedom? “I feel most free when………” Do I need freedom to do or be something new this year? or freedom from something this year?
The Netivot shalom, the late Slonimer Rebbe, reminds us that Pesah, like the High Holy Day season, is a time of spiritual renewal a time of becoming a briah hadasha / a new creature. On the first seder night, as at Yom Kippur, we dress in white – even wearing our kittel, the white garment we are married in, fast in at Yom Kippur and will be buried in. It is a time of bitul, becoming more transparent, more aligned, lighter. However, the essential difference between the seasons is that in the fall, the Arousal toward change is from Below (itruta d’l’tata) , from our own initiation of the process of Teshuvah / returning. This season, however, the Arousal is a gift from Above (itaruta d’l’eila). It is a time of Grace, of Desire, a season of Divine Love manifesting with less judgment than during the fall holydays. We only need to open ourselves to this intention for us to become revitalized.
So often lack of freedom is associated with fear. When we experience oppression or slavery, we wish to run from that which oppresses us. Several months ago my teacher, Rabbi Moshe Aharon Krassen, shared this koan with me when we were discussing the Hebrew word yira which contains the dual meanings of fear and awe. We can meditate on these words: “What I am running from is I what will give me what I am running to; fall into the fear of what I am running from, so excellence will manifest!
This is our journey, the path of Israel (Yisra-El: wrestling with or coming into alignment with the Divine) as we discern what we are running from so that we can run toward true freedom of body and soul. What blocks me from knowing that I am free?
We are on the spiritual journey from ANI aleph-nun-yod – “I”/ego to AYIN aleph-yod-nun – Emptiness/ transcendence-of-ego and from ayin back to ani. We come close and move away and come close again. Thus, the story of Pesah, the Exodus is truly nitzhit / continual.
May we all be blessed that this Pesah will be our deepest and most meaningful ever.
Babylonian Talmud Tractat Yoma 53b:[…speaking of the incense burned in the Holy Temple: ] Why must one put a smoke-raiser spice into the incense? …When one puts in the smoke-raiser, the incense will rise up straight until it reaches the ceiling; as soon as it reaches the ceiling, it will come slowly down the walls until the house becomes full of smoke.
The Zohar Parasha Aharei Mot teaches us that the incense is much beloved to the Holy One and is an agent of cleansing for us.
Thus, we need to re-build our Sanctuary ceiling with intention to create the holy container for our community’s vibrational incense – our music, our love of each other and our love of the Divine.Our Sanctuary needs physical repair, and, metaphorically our Sanctuary needs the tikkun, the fixing, that each of us can bring through our generosity and open heartedness.Without an intact ceiling, the incense does not flow downward to fill the holy space, to surround us, and bring us to a new level of kedusha, sanctity.
Psalm 146 1-2:My soul says “halleluyah” to Reality.With my very life-force I praise The Infinite.I sing to Divinity “b’odi”- with the extra bit of myself that I did not know I had.
A leaky ceiling can be our inspiration to look deeply into ourselves to find our distinctive contribution.What is my offering to the creation of Sanctuary, to the building of spiritual community?What is my part of our new ceiling, of the renewal of our holy space?
We are called to give our “ode” – that more than we even thought we had to share.As we rebuild our ceiling, we will have the opportunity to fill the renewed Holy Space with the incense that is made by ccombining our unique prayers and songs.As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches us, we each contribute our special point of goodness – our “ode” – to the creation of our communal melody, our wise-heartedniggun. Let our renewed Sanctuary be filled with the dreams, intentions, inspiration, love, healing and melody that will bring Chochmat HaLev to a new level of thriving, flourishing, prosperity and abundance!
Parashiot Vaeira, Bo and, Beshalah (Exodus 6:2-17:16)
These chapters in Exodus prepare us for the holyday of Passover that we will celebrate when we see the 3rd full moon from now. Over the next 3 weeks, we read the story of the 10 plagues and the escape through the sea. We are taught that this story is continually being reenacted in our lives. And so we ask, what is our lesson for 5772?
Once again we enter into Pharaoh’s heart as we read the Exodus story. Once again we feel compelled to act out the drama. What do we find in Pharaoh’s heart-mind? Our story hints at pride, duty, mission, a sense of entitlement, but also of wavering and doubt. The text explicitly describes hardness, heaviness, stubbornness. Sometimes Pharaoh’s heart is acted upon by the Divine, sometimes Pharaoh strengthens his own resolve, and then the heart develops autonomy.
In our Jungian dream state, we are Moses and Aaron coming to Pharaoh at the same time that we are immersed in Pharaoh’s psyche and soul. We are invited to “come to Pharaoh – bo el Paroh” – expressly “ because I (the Divine Director) have made his heart heavy”. The Voice whispers and prods Pharaoh to be tough and not to give in. Yet the Ear hears the groans and sighs of Israelite suffering. The Voice bolsters the ego that is holding on desperately, strengthening Pharaoh’s resolve just so Pharaoh can break down and self-destruct. Only by making of Pharaoh’s heart a vessel that can be shattered, can the next Paradigm be birthed as we cross the sea, our communal birth canal. Pharaoh came with us on our flight to freedom, and that which no longer serves our evolution was drowned.
But the residue of the traumas remains with us. We still cry out and complain and we take another 40 years to work on learning the lesson of Trust (if we ever truly learn this as the rest of Tanakh describes).
I bless us to deeply meditate on this story this year, empathizing with each of its characters. Perhaps through this lesson of compassion, a new paradigm for healing old stories will finally emerge.
With a prayer for wisdom-of-heart as we grapple with our Tradition,