Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Personal Reflection on the Rebbe's "VaYishlach" Teaching in 1991

I just studied a very lively teaching that the Lubavitcher Rebbe delivered during December 1991 on the Torah portion of "VaYishlach". The usage of rich imagery on the dynamics of cosmic male/female interplay made reading this teaching feel like reading an old fashioned romance novel. I also felt a faint emotional echo of the teaching's musical quality. The more I read, the more I got the sense that this teaching should have been set to music or better yet, inspired a composition of it's own. My mind began to envision a period when people will become so spiritually advanced that music will replace words as the primary means of human communication. Whereas language is culturally specific, music is universal - just like body language or gestures. If tuned in enough, people can understand each other's musical communication innately.

To me the true musical beauty of the Rebbe's teaching is the way he builds up the cosmic female. No longer is she a mere dimmed reflection of her cosmic male. She's matured into a unique being in her own right. She can now view her cosmic male "face to face", at equal height. She brings into the relationship something entirely new, not merely a reprocessing of what her cosmic male already brought. Shifting to the human level, in the old model, a husband brings home money or raw materials and his wife reprocesses these valuable resources into a fully functioning household.  The man provides her with seed and she reprocesses the seed into a baby. Of course, her reprocessing has her own touch and style. This is part of why kings or great personages of humanity's past often had multiple wives. Just like anyone needs a mirror to see his/her face, a male only sees a certain part of himself when it's reflected back to him in a female. The broad scope of a king or great personage's expansive personality often required multiple woman to reflect back for him a fuller image of his inner subconscious spectrum. 

This makes sense in a period when the function of female was to process and reflect what's male. However, when the female is built up and matures into her true role, polygamy is no longer necessary - as each gender plays both roles, shining and reflecting. However, there must still be some difference between male and female. Otherwise, what sets off the basic attraction between the two? What makes one male and the other female? Why should they interact at all?

I admit that while I understand that the ultimate source of cosmic maleness is the "line of light" and the ultimate source of cosmic femininity is the "afterglow" of the Infinite Light, I still don't have a good handle on how they interact in their ultimate state. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto clarifies in "138 Openings of Wisdom" the role of each in the early cosmos, which is a classically male/female paradigm. However, their true interaction in the later cosmos, like during the messianic or near-messianic period, I have yet to learn about.

Another feature of the Rebbe's teaching is that during this period the Rebbe was strongly pushing messianic awareness. Part of my reaction to this teaching is that I don't know quite how to take it. I certainly enjoyed both the depth and breadth of the Rebbe's Torah scholarship, as well as, his skillful interplay between cosmic male and female.

However, what left me baffled here is the Rebbe portrayal the Messiah's imminence. The Rebbe employs phrases that give the impression that the world is really ready for the messiah and the messiah himself is also really ready to reveal himself.  Yet, look at the world some 20 years later and it still seems eons away from this very sublime image that the Rebbe presents. How? Why?

It's quite possible that under ordinary circumstances I would have shrugged at these questions and simply moved onto to the next available Torah teaching, accepting that if I remain stuck in every difficult detail, I won't be able to accomplish the cumulative knowledge that I might eventually need to answer that very question. The Talmud cautions, "The Torah is lacking in one place and yet, abundant is another place". So sometimes the answer for a problem in topic A is found in topic B. This means that I'd have to study topic B to arrive at the answer which arose in topic A.  Spending too time stuck in topic A won't help.

However, in this case there are a couple of people who are waiting in the wings for my comments and insights. One of them is my Torah study partner, who asked me to study this teaching with him. Another, is an member of the community I belonged to some 13 years ago, whom I just became reacquainted with on facebook.

So before discussing this teaching with anyone, it might be helpful for me to formulate an understanding of how the Rebbe was so "Messiah-like" in the years of 1990-1992 and yet, the world that continued over the next 20 years had seen too many events which don't fit into a messianic era;  specifically, those events  which are clearly not in the spirit of the prophet Isaiah's promise, "No nation shall lift a sword to each other and they will no longer train for war."

It's possible that the answer lies in a comment I heard last week from an elder follower of the Rebbe. He taught me that no matter what the world's spiritual level is, a person should not lose heart. The Rebbe valued individuals being ready for the Messiah's arrival, even if the rest of humanity isn't. The Rebbe took his cue from our patriarch Jacob, who moved back to the Holy Land, even though his brother Esau neglected to prepare himself for the redemption. Some possible reasons for the Rebbe's position might be ...

A) The more people are prepared for the Messiah's arrival, the more likely it is to happen. The Maimonides teaches that in the Creator's eyes the world often hangs in balance and one slight good deed can tip the scales of justice in favor of blessing the world with divine kindness and abundance.

B) Even before the official redemption, select individuals can already taste the spiritual light of the redemption. The flavor of this spiritual light can inform all their devotional activities: their Torah study, their prayer/meditation and their acts of kindness. When filled with this light their devotions reach a much higher quality and possibly quantity as well. The way to become a vessel to receive and contain this light is to truly prepare oneself for the redemption. Also, since light's contagious, these people can possibly wake up others.

C) Life is rarely "black and white". Some people drawing down the light of redemption is much better than nobody drawing down this light. So even in a pre-redemption era there can be a lot of positive changes ensuing from the efforts of those preparing themselves for the Messiah's arrivals. The presence of even some of this light affects the thoughts and ideas that the whole humanity is exposed to and must grapple with.

The Rebbe modeled for us what it means to be a person filled with this light, as he was certainly perfectly ready for the redemption and inspired the masses to do the same. He demonstrated for us what a person filled with such a light thinks about, speaks about and most importantly, acts! In the spirit of this light, the Rebbe spoke with seemingly unbridled optimism - hoping to light the spiritual fires of the multitudes - sometimes, even 20 years later.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Only Blessings !

Tonight's both the birthday and anniversary of the passing away of phenomenally saintly figure in Jewish history Rabbi Dov Ber, the second spiritual leader of the Lubavitch Chassidic dynasty. They say that people who pass away on their birthdays have possibly achieved their full spiritual potential. Astrologically speaking, the birthday is an indicates a person's potential and the day of ascension is an indicates what the person did with that potential.

Rabbi Dov Ber's saintly father Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first spiritual leader of the dynasty, was accustomed to read from the Torah scroll every Sabbath for the congregation. One Sabbath, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was out of town and a substitute was selected to read from the Torah. That particular Torah reading included the curses mentioned in Deuteronomy, chapter 28. When Rabbi Dov Ber heard the curses, he was so shaken that sickness overcame him. His illness was sufficiently severe, that weeks later there was still a lingering doubt of whether he healthy enough to fast on Yom Kippur.

Close intimates asked, "You hear these very same curses read from the Torah scroll every year. What was different about this year's Torah reading that the very reading of these curses made you sick?" 

He replied, "When father reads I don't hear curses, only blessings."


To me it seems like Rabbi Dov Ber was speaking on two levels at once. On the simple level, he was referring to the comforting tonality with which his father conducted his public reading of the Torah scroll. Even when the subject matter sounded harsh, with his finely tuned tonality Rabbi Shneur Zalman was able to convey to his listeners the underlying message of divine love. However, on a deeper level, Rabbi Dov Ber was also referring to his Heavenly Father. Actually, in some sense both levels of meaning are the same. His earthly father was a truly spiritually advanced person. His earthliness transparent, a window to peer into the divine. He served his Creator selflessly, without a trace of personal ego. Therefore, when the sensitive youth heard him read from the Torah, he was able to discern the Divine voice echoing within his father's voice. 

His response, "when father reads I don't hear curses, only blessings", epitomizes a whole spiritual pathway to take in Torah and life in general. The words of Torah should sound and feel to us as they truly are - as words read to us by our Heavenly Father. When the sacred text of the Torah is read with this emotional flavor, then even what could feel like harsh words, at times, is framed in an entirely different emotional context. Our hearts taste the underlying love flowing in these words; Words spoken to us by a loving Parent, doing His very best to achieve what's for our very best.

The same can be said for the life in general. Since our lives and the world around us is literally the "Torah in action", whatever seems harsh in the world are merely events whose proper intellectual and emotional contexts are unknown to us. If the Creator gave us permission to see their true context, we'd see these events as total love. Our previous concern for their spiny appearance would instantly transform into a delightful vision of sweetness.  

Since the underlying stories behind life's stories are often withheld from us, how do we hear our Father's voice behind the events of our daily lives?  Following Rabbi Dov Ber's approach, it seems to me that he didn't attempt to achieve his tuning in by "having all the right answers" to life's puzzles. Such an approach would be impractical because there's a limit to what a human being is privy to. Rather, he attempted to be sensitive the divine voice echoing within the Torah and life's scenarios without expecting to understand, but, simply by trusting his Heavenly Father and delighting in the nurturing sound of His voice.

On one level or another I think that we can all sensitize ourselves to the Creator's voice in our daily lives by living a life of spiritual devotion, which includes seeking out spiritual guidance, prayer, meditation, Torah study, and frequent acts of kindness.  


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Trust ~ Daily Meditation

Recently, I was asked on facebook for a recommendation on how to maintain and even grow one's trust in the Creator.

I replied, "This is why even though I don't officially consider myself a full follower of Breslov Chassidic teachings, I try to practice Rebbe Nachman's recommendation to seclude myself with my Creator for an hour a day (or maybe two half hour sessions a day). I feel that for me talking and communing with the Creator daily does wonders for my trust in Him. It sensitizes me to His presence. I'm sure that just like there's a different key for each door, so too there's a different key for each person's spiritual growth."

The person whose question I answered appreciated my answer and requested that I craft a blog essay, cast in the spirit of my response.


Imagine you have the opportunity to spend time with someone who truly loves you, possibly a lover, a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, your child, a very close friend, etc. Wouldn't you crave for that special moment? Now let's imagine that even though you truly love this person with all your heart, somehow, this person loves you even more. Wouldn't this make the meeting so much more special? Wouldn't you yearn to bask in such an intense aura of love? Now, let's up the level. Let's say this person doesn't merely love you even more, this person loved you Infinitely. How does that make you feel? Don't you really crave spending time with this person?

I know I would and in a sense I do. Though the Creator is not a person, His love for each of us is literally Infinite. It's simple logic. Everything about Him is Infinite. There's nothing finite about Him. Therefore, if He loves, He loves Infinitely. Since He proclaimed His love for all people, He must love everyone Infinitely. This is why I crave time alone with Him each day - like a personal date with my Lover. In this space of time, I can pour out my thoughts, feelings and musings to the One Who loves me most.

Truthfully, even what I've shared till now is a vast understatement. He doesn't merely love me immeasurably more than I love Him, He loves me Infinitely more than I love myself. However much I love myself, it's still finite - as I'm a finite creation. He easily surpasses my limited self love just by being Infinite. So when I am pouring out my insides to my Creator, I am in the midst of a session with a Being Who loves me so profoundly that He loves me Infinitely more than I love myself. How can I possibly miss an opprtunity for such a precious connection? My hearts jumping in anticipation for the very next opportunity. To sit in the presence of this Being and spend time with Him in open communication is so pleasurable. I feel luckier than a child awaiting his first taste of birthday cake !

His love for me is so infathomable and so unconditional that I can trust Him with everything and anything. I can let my hair down and tell Him my most private thoughts that I dare not tell some of my closest friends. I can trust Him with them. Truthfully, He knows them anyways. It's the whisper of His voice that I hear right through them. Yet, despite His knowing, my own efforts to unravel before Him, to undress and expose my naked heart, contains a beauty all of it's own. I can trust Him with my emotional fragility and vunerabilites. My human weakness is  safe to expose before Him. His unconditional acceptance dissipates the shame of weakness.

Not only can I trust Him with all my emotional fragility and vunerabilites, but, I can also trust in His uncondtional love to handle my physical ones as well. I can trust Him to carry me through the journey of life, guiding me along the path which is ultimately for my best. Though I walk blindly, I implicitly trust my all knowing and all loving Creator to guide me along. He knows my journey. He designed it with Infinite Love.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cosmic Continuity

The phrase "as below so above" means that everything physical is really continuous with spiritual reality and therefore, has spiritual counterparts. What is below on the earthly realm metaphorically mirrors what above in the spiritual realms; it's just that the limitations of our capacity to perceive  doesn't allow us to see whole entities. As a result, we can only follow any given entity with our eyes up to the edge of our perceptive limits. 

Lurianic Kabbalah describes a cosmic event called "the shattering of the vessels". In the early universe, the basic primal spiritual forces, known as "sefirot", shattered - as they were unable to contain the spiritual light streaming into them. The light was simply too expansive for their rigid positions to hold onto. Being unable to serve as vessels to contain the light, they exploded. The shards of the explosion became the spiritual and physical building material of the lower realms. One might wonder whether this fragmentation seriously compromises the potentially seamless continuum between the spiritual and physical reality and therefore, brings into question whether the lower realms truly mirror their counterparts in the highest realms.

I'd suggest that there probably is some compromise. However, the lower realms still mirror the higher realms. Only, it's fragmented mirroring, as the mirrors (or lower realms) are fragments. Fragments can cause some distortion. Looking at one's face by loosely bringing together bits and pieces of a broken mirror doesn't exactly make for a great image. Obviously, more fragmentation means more potential for distortion. However, every fragment is still reflecting some piece of the image.

The cosmic repair work to mend the fragmentation is done through our prayers, good deeds and kindness. In response to our good behavior the Creator rearranges the material across the various spiritual realms and creates new spiritual structures. These newly reconstituted spiritual structures are called "partzufim" (which is the Greek word for "faces", as borrowed by Hebrew/Aramaic). Continuing with the mirror metaphor, when the mirror is put back together, then it reflects the full face, not a fragmented one. Maybe, that's why what's repaired is referred to "partzufim" or faces. 

One of the Creator's tools used in this repair work is a new kind of light which He streams into the space of creation through the "line of light". Unlike the first light which streamed down the "line of light", shattering the vessels, this light is much higher and helps build and reinforce the repaired structures, so they don't shatter again. One might question, "If the second light is even higher than the first, how does it avoid doing damage?"

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was fond of saying that the sickest patients require the most profound physicians.  Since these patients are in such a fragile state, someone whose merely a "good physician" might ruin them. They need the best of the best.  So too with the light, the highest lights have the greatest ability to deal with the most fragile situations. The first light is like the "good physican", whom though well meaning, ruined the situation. The second light is like the "profound physician" who brings a new depth of skill and understanding to heal the situation.

The "line of light" is the main cable bringing down spiritual lights from the "Infinite Light" into the space of creation. I think of it as a kind of cosmic spinal cord, which extends the commanding signals of "Infinite Light" into the space of creation. Before entering the space of creation, this new light needs to be filtered. Otherwise, it will overwhelm the creation. This filtering function is performed by the "line of light", as it controls the flow of light streaming into the territory of creation.

Based on this, know that everything you consciously think, feel and speak somehow affects how well our earthly realm mirrors higher reality. Being in full awareness of this, turns each and every moment into dearly precious opportunity.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Smile !

Today, I learned that people's faults are far less noticeable when they're happy.  Happiness is a spiritual light that can magically overexpose the dark streaks in our souls.  Bathed in brilliant light, they fade from view.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Happy Birthday !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Today is my birthday on the Jewish Calender - 23rd Cheshvon 5772

My meditation for today:

I admit to myself that in my past there were "three biggies" which served as my main doorways to happiness. They were my abilities, growth and achievements. My happiness was held hostage by these three "bandits"; or so I thought. Closer to the truth, I did not allow myself to be happy. I blocked it's inner flow as one plugs a fountain.

Today, I pray to my Creator to please turn this situation around. Please allow my happiness be a constant flow, streaming in from the sensation of life itself. Please allow my happiness become the main doorway to express my abilities, to grow and achieve. Please help these "three biggies" resonate off my happiness the way a lively melody dances off a fiddler's strings.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Soul Soles

I've often heard that the Grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Scheerson, of blessed memory, had taught that the generation of Jews who will greet the Messiah will be reincarnations of the Jews who were redeemed from Egypt.

In all sincerity this teaching raised a serious question in my heart, for which generation of Jews is not a reincarnation of the generation who were redeemed from Egypt? Let me explain my question a further. All Jewish souls  in all the subsequent generations derive from 600,000 root souls manifest in that generation, with each Jewish couple of that time sharing a single soul root. In later generations these souls further sub-divided - like a flame lighting many candles. Therefore, as the Jewish population grows beyond 600,000 couples it is possible for many people to be derived from a single root soul. This is the mystery of how every Jew was present at Mount Sinai (see  "The Gate of Reincarnation"). So why does  Rabbi Schneerson single out the generation who will greet the Messiah as reincarnations of the Jews who left Egypt, when this was seemingly also true of so many other generations as well?

Last week, while ruminating over this question in meditation, a possible answer arose in my mind. I think the Messiah's generation is probably the "feet" of those 600,000 root souls. I don't think any previous generation, as a whole, was the "feet" of those souls (i.e. soles of these souls). Chassidic teachings explain that the soles are imprinted by the energies of the entire person. This might be the spiritual basis for reflexology. The Jews who stood at Mount Sinai where probably the head (i.e. brains) of those souls. Each subsequent generation was possibly one soul level lower, going down the spiritual anatomy, until a generation whose the "soles" of these souls arise (which I truly hope is us). When a higher level incarnates, it outshines all lower soul sparks and their radiance is lost in the higher soul light - like the light of a lantern in high noon. So though the "feet" were also present at the foot of Mount Sinai, they were outshone by the "head". The same can be said for later generations, since all body levels are higher than the feet. 

If my understanding is correct then, paradoxically, the "feet" which stood around Mount Sinai, will become the "ears" for the revelation of Messiah's Torah.


Many Paths ... Many Journeys.

In a recent conversation with my Mother, I remembered this special story -  which I'm sure does it's work within my subconscious, helping to ensure that I view others positively: 

In the town of Mezhirich during the 1760's dwelt was a saintly spiritual leader named Rabbi Dov Ber. Rabbi Dov Ber developed a large following of disciples, most of whom were spiritually advanced in their own right. Among other reasons, they were drawn to him largely to the learn the art of spiritual leadership. He was like a general training generals.

One day, Rabbi Dov Ber was visited by a wealthy admirer. During the visit, the time arrived for Rabbi Dov Ber to deliver an impassioned lecture to his inner circle of disciples. Being present, the wealthy man sat through the lecture drinking in every word with the excitement of someone who had just discovered the sweetness of nectar for the very first time. During the lecture, Rabbi Dov Ber heaped dear praises on the amazing spiritual benefits of living an ascetic lifestyle.  When the wealthy man heard these words, they cut through his heart like a knife. He thought to himself, "I must be at a tremendous distance from anything spiritual. I live in the lap of luxury, rolled up in delicate comfort, the very polar opposite from the blatant recommendations of my spiritual master."

As soon as the lecture ended, he approached Rabbi Dov Ber and pleaded, "Holy master please put me on a program of asceticism. I too want to be spiritual!"

"Your spiritual program is to keep doing what your already doing. Eat three sumptuous delicious meals a day. Please don't compromise on an iota on your usual culinary pleasures.", offered Rabbi Dov Ber.

As soon as the honored guest look leave, the inner circle of disciples converged on their master and questioned, "You had him so turned on. He was about to abandon the life of flesh for a life of the spirit. Why did you allow this precious opportunity slip away so easily?"

"What appeared to you to be an opportunity for this man, would have been a terrible mistake; actually, a lost opportunity for him," sighed Rabbi Dov Ber. "He's a soul that came down into the earthly realm for a very special spiritual purpose, to spend his life of giving charity.  Therefore, the Creator blessed him with plenty to give. This is his spiritual work. A lifestyle of asceticism will just get in his way and confuse him. When the needy come knocking on his door, he's liable to think to himself that if he can subsist daily on a few crumbs of dry bread then they can probably exist on rocks and pebbles. However, if he allows himself to cultivate a sensitive palate for the heights of culinary pleasures, then he'll also cultivate the emotional sensitivity to, at the very least, provision the needy with some nice moist bread."

Lesson: It's easier to view others positively when we realize that each person is placed by the Creator on a different, but equally valid, program of  spiritual growth. There are many paths and many journeys. No two people have the exact same journey.

(This story is retold from Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin's Chassidic strories arranged by the weekly Torah portion - published in English by Artscroll)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Expanding Universe

This is a very brief blurb of what I hope will become in the future a fully developed user-friendly essay (either written by myself or someone else). This idea might still be too esoteric for today, but, it will probably be exoteric for tomorrow. Respecting this possibility, right now the blurb is written in a way that people with a basic education in Kabbalah or Chabad Chassidic Philosophy will understand:

It seems possible that the reason why scientists see the universe expanding is because Lurianic Kabbalah teaches that the "tzimtzum",i.e. the contraction of the Infinite Light, repeated itself ten times. With each repitition the outer wall of the "tzimtzum" once again expanded out further; ultimately, expanding ten times - only, in our much slower time zone the expansion has not yet been completed. As a result, our realm's version of the "reshimu", i.e. the cosmic feminine, is not yet fully developed and the Infinite Light's "line of light", i.e. the cosmic masculine, had not yet entered our realm. When she fully matures and the "line of light" enters, the universe as we know it will be much more spiritual than it is now.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Duel Versions


Yesterday, I read in the Talmud (B'rachot 5B) a story about a sage who unknowingly erred and once behaved beneath the expectation for someone on his spiritual level. This sage made his living selling wine. Compassionately, the Creator brought his attention to his accidental misbehavior, signaling him to make amends. Suddenly, his stock of four hundred wine barrels turned into vinegar  - losing most of their value.

He asked his fellow sages, "Why did this happen to me?"

They helped him examine his deeds until the incident which he was oblivious to had surfaced. At first, he defended his behavior. His colleagues broke through his defenses, forcing him to face up to what he did. Then he realized that he should have handled the situation differently. 

When he resolved to make amends, a miracle occurred. There are two versions of this miracle. One version is that all the vinegar turned back to wine. Another version is that the price of vinegar rose to match the price of wine. Thus, he was able to sell his stock without incurring a loss.

Often enough when a story has two versions, I am left wondering, "Well, which one is correct?"

In this case, I am thrilled that there are two versions of how his impending loss was averted. Between the duel versions of the story lies a valuable lesson. One version, the vinegar turning back to wine is a miracle beyond nature, as it's unnatural for vinegar to revert to wine. The other version, the price of vinegar rising to match the price of wine is a miracle within nature. It's easy to point to market forces which can occasionally fluctuate in an unpredictable pattern, temporarily bringing up the price of the unexpected commodity.

The lesson is that the Creator can achieve the exact same goal with either kind of miracle, whether beyond nature or within nature. Therefore, we shouldn't feel less cared for by Him if nature isn't overturned to meet our needs. Most miracles today are disguised as natural occurrences. We just need to keep our eyes open to appreciate them.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Layers of Passion

My passions are layered. 
As worn out passions fade, 
Fresh ones are exposed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Up/Down ~ Right/Left ~ In/Out

In Jewish Mysticism, the designations of upper, inner and right usually refer to holier and more spiritual positions. Whereas, lower, outer and left usually designate more physical positioning. This concept is basic to Judaism's inner teachings. However, what might be lost on some people is the different meanings of each set of positions: up/down, right/left and inner/outer. Even though generally speaking all the sets represent a polarity of spiritual and temporal, in the specific sense, each set means something different.

It seems to me that up/down designates positions of dominance and submission. For example, when we say that heaven is above earth, we mean to say that heaven is the dominant partner in the relationship.

Right/left seem to designate the parties as being different, but, complimentary. Each brings his/her own talents to cooperate in accomplishing a task, which requires their partnership. An example of this would be parenting children.

Inner/outer to me seems to designate the parties as exact or near exact parallels to each other on different levels. For instance, every sensory organ has an outer and an inner component. The outer presence of the eyes and ears are continuous with their inner presence in the brain. 

Interestingly, while studying a mystical discourse by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi describing the states of heart one can aspire to during prayer, I encountered descriptions of the holier component of the heart. It was decribed with both the terms, "inner" and "right". In contrast, the heart's earthier component was described as both "outer" and "left". I was musing to myself, "Spatially speaking, if something's positioned on the right side, it's not inside. If it's placed on the left side, it's not outside. So how can both right/left and inner/outer describe the same exact entity? It seems spatially impossible. The position should be either one or the other."

Perhaps a possible answer is that their default positions are indeed right/left. They're side by side with each oter. This is because they are different from each other in the sense that one component of the heart is primarily focused on the earthly, while the other is primarily interested in the spiritual. Yet, they compliment each other, keeping man in balance between the two concerns. Thus, delivering to man a moderate, but, sweetly spiritual life.

However, with spiritual work the two components of the heart can be brought into alignment. The left side of the heart can eventually become sensitive enough to feel and identify with the vibes coming from the right side of the heart. When this alignment happens, the two components are now in an "inner/outer" relationship. The spiritual side of the heart is driving the earthly side, as his vehicle for outer expression.


Monday, October 24, 2011

A Pathway to Lurianic Kabbalah


"From my flesh I'll perceive Divinity (Job 19:26)"

Lurianic Kabbalah is largely about the overall cosmos - the very big picture of created reality. This sweeping overview is often referred to as the "macrocosm". In contrast, the human being was created as a "microcosm" of this "macrocosm". In other words, there's a sampling of every level, physical and spiritual, inside the human being. This is why the Creator announced, "Let us make man in our image and our likeness.." (Genesis 1:26).

Rabbinic commentators relate that the our in this verse refers to all the forces of creation. Each force of creation contributed something of itself to man ~ making man a sample, in miniature, of the entire creation. Therefore, as creation became physical as a result of eating the fruit in the Garden of Eden, man's body also became physical, changing to match the universe's new circumstances.

Since the macrocosm and microcosm mirror each other, the best possible place to begin studying the macrocosm is by studying the microcosm. If somehow the whole universe is within, then it's best to start from within. It's the most accessible starting point. We're more naturally in touch with ourselves than we are with what's occurring outside ourselves. 

Therefore, when studying "Tree of Life", the magnus opus of Lurianic Kabbalah, I recommend first relating to the text as a description of our body, soul and super-soul levels. Each level should be identified within ourselves. We should understand what our inner "partzufim" look like, what our inner realms look like, what Divine Names look like in our psyche, etc.  Once the "Tree of Life" is understood in this light, an inner model has been developed for taking it to the macrocosmic level and trying to understanding the cosmos. 

Although I wish I had a teacher to show me what every detail described in the work "Tree of Life" looks like within me, I do have a place to begin. Chassidic teachings often rework deeper Kabbalistic concepts, making them more user friendly by explaining what they look like inside of ourselves. In fact, there's a work of Kabbalah dedicated to just this approach. It's called "Tal Orot" by Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shpielman. The author takes Chassidic teachings and uses them to explain Lurianic Kabbalah.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Humble Willow


Today is the Jewish Holiday of Hoshana Rabba. Customerlily, we beat five willow branches on the ground. Afterwards, we recite a prayer beseeching the Creator to sweeten all harsh judgements. This seems like a bizzare mystical ritual that begs for deeper explanation.

During the past seven days, we took a date palm frond, a citron, three myrtle branches and two willow branches and united them together. Then we waved them in all six primary spatial directions. Each of these four kinds of plant growth represent a different kind of Jew: The Torah scholar, the one who thrives on doing good deeds, those who are a balanced combination of both Torah and good deeds, and those whose deeds and learning are poor.

The Torah scholar is represented by the date palm frond because dates taste yummy like Torah knowledge. The one who thrives on good deeds is represented by the myrtle because it's leave exude a fragrant aroma - like good deeds. Those who combine both focuses, Torah and good deeds, are represented by the citron because the citron exudes fragrance and also, offers taste. Those whose deeds and learning are poor are represented by the willow which has neither fragrance nor taste. 

However, it's these four plant growths are not only four kinds of Jews, they are four states within every single Jew. Every Jew has an inner aspect which is learned, an inner aspect that's focused on good deeds and an inner aspect which wishes to combine both learning and good deeds. Then we also all have an inner unreached potential - our "inner willow".

Since this "inner willow" is unreached and unformed, it's wild and often manifests as our harsher more judgmental side. On Hoshana Rabba, as the judgment period which began on Rosh Hashana draws to close, we beseech the Creator not to view our "inner willow" as a liability worthy of His disappointment, but, rather as an asset, as untapped potential, which can be grown, molded, shaped and sweetened into something beautiful ~ perhaps, a future "inner myrtle", maybe even an "inner date palm frond" or an "inner citron".

Happy Holiday !

An Afterthought:

I wrote the following in an e-mail to a friend concerning the above teaching:
Basically, the article deals with what the willow symbol means to us on the personal human level. It's derived from the backdrop of what it means cosmically in Kabbalistic terms. It are basically forces that are feminine (malchut) and need their masculine counterparts in order to function without harshness. Otherwise, their vision is shortsighted and they behave from a perspective of fragmentation. So we pray to the Creator to sweeten them, meaning to marry them to their masculine counterparts so they can function from a vantage point of kindness, the sefira of chesed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Succot Thought - Emotional Packaging

We are now in the midst of the Holiday of Succot. Mystically speaking, the buoyantly vibrant celebration of Succot is seen as an extension of  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It's all just one long Holiday, divided into segments. Somehow, during the happiness of Succot we are further processing the blessings for a sweet year we had received during the more solemn Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

I think of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as setting out the blueprint for our year. As with all blueprints, it's intellectual. As an architect lays out the plans of a building, so too the Creator has laid out the plans for our year. However, Succot is different is one very important way. It's primarily emotional. We’re praying for those blessings charted with the Creator's intellectual care to be also given personality and character. Specifically, we want those blessings granted with a happy and shining Divine Face. We're not only interested in what's given to us, but also in how it's given to us. That sweet emotional packaging is very important.

The same planned blessings will reach us very differently if the Creator wraps them in His emotions and presents them to us with a heart over brimming with joy. It's our hopes that our joyous celebration, will warm up His heart and signal our readiness to receive His gifts for a new year in a joyous relationship with Him. We hope that with our joyous attitudes during Succot He will be aroused to grant us our new year with a happy and shining Face. 

Imagine a King who has dedicated an annual allowance for each of his two sons.  One son, he’s feeling emotionally distant from. To this son he sends a messenger with the allowance. It will be appropriate, but, limited to what he decided from the distance should be objectively sufficient. However, to the son he feels emotionally close to, the story is entirely different. He meets this son personally. During the meeting, he inquires about his welfare. If his son needs something more, it’s readily arranged. In the joy of the discussion the allowance easily grows to really suit his every need and whim, even exceeding them to allow for luxuries. 

Similarly, by our Succot celebrations we are now going through a period of warming up the Divine Heart.  We don’t simply want His gifts. We want His gifts given to us happily. While music, dancing, food, are all part of this celebration, there’s nothing that arouses His warmth for us like our unity. To symbolize how deeply we identify being unified, we take a date palm frond, a citron, three myrtle branches and two willow branches and unite them together. Each of these four kinds of plant growth represent a different kind of Jew: The Torah scholar, the one who thrives on doing good deeds, those who are a balanced combination of both Torah and good deeds, and those whose deeds and learning are poor. We proclaim that all four kinds of Jews are one. By waving these four plant products in all six directions in space, we show that we’re one beating heart pulsating in all directions together. 

The Torah scholar is represented by the date palm frond because dates taste yummy like Torah knowledge. The one who thrives on good deeds is represented by the myrtle because it's leave exude a fragrant aroma - like good deeds. Those who combine both focuses, Torah and good deeds, are represented by the citron because the citron exudes fragrance and also, offers taste. Those whose deeds and learning are poor are represented by the willow which has neither fragrance nor taste. This bond of unity among all four kinds of Jews coming together, arouses the Creator's happiness for us like nothing else and brings Him to us along with His planned blessings.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Light of Four Philosphers

I'm in my early 40's. Rather recently I've asked myself if the Creator had given me an opportunity to briefly revisit my youth what scenarios would I like to have a second chance to re-experience? Truthfully, my college years were mostly splendid and full of stimulating experiences. It was a time when I really discovered life. However, a couple of experiences really stand out among the rest. The reason is not necessarily because they were my favorites, though they were very high on that list. Certain favorite experiences are off this list because I still regularly experience them. They lack the nostalgia factor. Other youthful experiences aren't on this list because while I enjoyed them at the time, I regret having done them. They weren't right for me. 

Two experiences seem to dominate this list, a Shabbat with Congregation Shearith Israel and to sit once again in Rabbi Strickman's Medieval Jewish Philosophy classes. What seem to tie both experiences together is that they are the spiritual, intellectual and emotional fruits of the Medieval Sephardi world. I used to sit on the maroon cushioned bench in Shearith Israel, close my eyes and sway to the voices of the choir, imagining myself transported back in time to a synagogue in Medieval Spain. I recall Rabbi Angel's sermons and classes as offering me seasoned insight into the psycho-social currents of the contemporary world within the framework of a sensitive and nurturing Torah outlook. I often wake up in the morning, especially on Shabbat and festivals, to the recurring dream of finding myself in the main sanctuary of Shearith Israel.

In the course of my four years in Touro College, Rabbi Strickman led me through an intellectual journey exposing main highlights of four central works of Medieval Jewish Philosophy. They were the Maimonides' "Guide for Perplexed", Rabbi Judah HaLevi's "Kuzari", Rabbi Saadia Gaon's "Beliefs and Opinions" and Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pequda's "Duties of the Heart". Interestingly, each of these works were originally written in Arabic, the vernacular of the Sephardi world in Medieval times.

The other day I found myself in the midst of an inner debate over why I would want restudy these works. At first I thought that it was for their philosophical content. Then I realized that I'm not exactly jumping to study other works of philosophy, like Plato or Aristotle. So while I may have a definite philosophical side, it's not strong enough to draw me into voluntarily studying ponderous works of world philosophy. Then I thought to myself, "Maybe my real interested is in history and I'm simply making a mistake. What I think is a philosophical interest is really a historical interest. Maybe, I'm interested in the thought processes of these great Jewish Sages for their historical value. After all, I've been pretty diligently studying world history since childhood." 

"Yeah, but that was in bite size encyclopedia entries", I answered myself. "I haven't recently  gravitated to any serious works of history. I am satisfied with just knowing my general way around humanity's historical landscape. Then my interest in restudying these four sages must have different motivation."

"If it's neither a philosophical quest nor a historical quest then what is such a yearning called? What is it called when I admire someone so much for making a such special contribution that I want to feel the stream of his thoughts flowing in my mind and I want to feel his loves, fears and compassion pulsate in my heart? What do psychologists call this? What's the real nature of such a yearning? When I really think about it, I feel this way about studying Jewish Mysticism as well. It's just that since I study this topic regularly, I don't feel the thirst. It's like having a glass of water nearby. So real thirst never has a chance to develop."

"Maybe, if I am having difficulty defining these feelings psychologically, it's time to examine them in religious/spiritual terms. Maybe, this kind of definition is more readily available to me."

"Maybe, I'm drawn to certain areas of Torah because that is what I need to learn in this incarnation. This is the spiritual food I descended into the earthly realm to eat. My soul was hungry for just such a meal and still is. This explains my deep attraction to Torah subjects which are today loosely classified as Mach-shah-vah or "Thought". This kind of thinking draws both from Jewish Philosophy and Mysticism to build a picture of the real nature of the world we live in. I recently chuckled with someone about how some explore the universe by peering into a telescope, while I explore the wider universe by peering into Jewish Mystical works. Really, it's the same quest, but, from a different direction."

"So it stands to reason that every Torah sage who channeled teachings along the lines of this topic is dear to me. They're offering me my soul food. Each is a living repository of teachings perched within the context of Torah's vast landscape. I view each sage's teachings not merely as a book knowledge, but, rather as a living spirit, capable of nurturing my own growth in Torah and helping me nurture the growth of others as well. This transmission is a living consciousness. When computers transmit knowledge to each other, this knowledge is about as alive as a stone is. However, when souls transmit Torah, this knowledge might be on a level that's even more alive than people are. When that knowledge becomes part of us, we become more alive ourselves. This is why I want to once again partake in the soul food offered by these four sages."

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ultimate Oneness

"Duties of the Heart" by Our Master Bachya Ibn Pequda is divided into sections called "gates". In "The Gate of Unity" he takes his audience on an intellectual journey into the meaning of what Jews proclaim twice daily, "The Creator is One." 

He explains that the Creator's Oneness is unlike any other oneness. Anything else that people consider one is really made up of parts. The technical term for this kind of oneness is a "composite unity", meaning a unity composed of parts. Humans are incapable of conceiving anything singular in any other way. For example, let's take one beam of light. It has parts: a beginning, middle and end. Even the beginning has it's own beginning, middle and end. It has a beginning of a beginning, a middle of beginning and an end of beginning. So it's composite to the core.

By contrast, the Creator's Oneness has no parts whatsoever. Being Infinite in the ultimate true sense of the word, He's beginningless, middleless and endless.  This kind of Oneness is called "non-composite". It's a pure and perfect Oneness. There cannot be a truer One. Though humans cannot conceive of such a Oneness because the mind is designed to process more fragmented reality, still we can contemplate why our minds cannot conceive the Creator's Oneness and bow in utter surrender before His transcendental mystery.

Our Master Bachya Ibn Pequda eloquently argues that there can only be one true Oneness or Infinity. For if there were two, reality would be divided up between them. Each identity of each would stop at the border where the other begins. Hence, they'd both manifest limitations rendering each finite, not truly One. If there can only be One Infinity, then why do the Kabbalist sometimes refer to the higher spiritual realms as being Infinite?

It seems likely to me that the higher spiritual realms are not absolutely infinite. Rather, they are relative infinities, meaning that they appear as infinite relative to realms below them. The way this might work is that the higher realms truly exhibit multiplicity on their own level. Yet, this multiplicity is too subtle to register on the lower levels. Beings on the lower levels don't have the capacity to perceive the elevated components comprising such multiplicities.

An example from our own realm of this phenomenon might be our perception of white light. If passed through a prism it presents itself as being a composite of seven colors. However to the naked unaided eye, it's a single color - white! So too, the multiplicity of the higher realms would be lost if examined from an earthly perspective. Therefore, they appear like non-composite unities. However, relative to themselves, to yet higher realms and certainly to the Creator Himself, they exhibit multiplicity and are finite. Only the Creator is truly non-composite, Infinite and One.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011


A Yom Kippur Thought:

In the midst of a deep spiritual crises, the "golden calf" episode, the Creator revealed to Moses the "Thirteen Attributes of Compassion" (Exodus 34:6,7). Since then, invoking these "Thirteen Attributes" at opportune times have brought about the Creator's unconditional forgiveness.

The "Date Palm of Deborah" is short book written by the renown Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovaro (1522 -1570). The main body of this work is a description of how each of the Creator's "Thirteen Attributes of Compassion" has a human counterpart which can actually be practiced by people to forgive those who have hurt them. All human acts of forgiveness express  one or more of these attributes.

For example, it's commonplace for people who have been hurt by others to feel insulted. The concept underlying the first attribute of compassion addresses the insult cast at the Creator when people knowingly misuse His resources He kindly created to benefit humanity. These people abuse the blessings to satisfy their short sighted selfishness, usually towards destructive ends. Their attitudes and actions taunt their Divine Benefactor. Yet, the Creator absorbs these insults and does not withhold His kindness from them. Humans can put this first attribute into practice by not withholding their kindness from those who have insulted them.

The idea that the "Thirteen Attributes of Compassion" can also be practiced on the human level carries amazing implications for our role in the world because by imitating the Creator's Attributes we become channels to bring those Attributes down into the earthly realm. They already exist higher up in the spiritual reams. By forgiving others, we continue their chain of decent and birth them down here. This is especially poignant during this time of the year as Yom Kippur approaches - a general time for forgiveness.

So if the Creator has given me and you someone to forgive, He's given us the opportunity to participate in this wonderful process of bringing His sweetness into the world this year. If our conscious minds would see it the way our souls do, we'd instantly recognize that we've been truly gifted!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Music of the Soul

Over this Holiday season allow yourself to become enchanted by the music of your own soul, as well as the souls of others. Then your prayers will truly pour forth like pent up wellsprings, finally unclogged. 
~ Shana Tova U'Mitukah :)

Happy !

Many times I prayed for what I subconsciously thought would bring happiness, until one day I caught myself and starting praying for happiness itself.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Free to be Happy !

Ages ago, a spiritual seeker asked a master mystic to initiate him into the hidden wisdom. The mystic inquired whether it's the same to him if someone praises him or insults him. The seeker responded that he loves praise and hates insults. The master bid him a good day explaining that he's not ready until he feels the same whether praised or insulted.

~ adapted from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's "Meditation and Kabbalah"  

For over twenty years, I was under the impression that the mystic master was possibly requesting from the seeker stoicism.  It wasn't until recently that it dawned on me that the master was not requesting stoicism as the "great emotional equalizer" of events. He was requesting intense happiness, possibly bordering on (spiritual) ecstasy to be that "emotional equalizer". 

Normal life conditioning often leads people to link their happiness with events going their way. They think to themselves that they need X, Y and Z to happen in order to be happy. Until then, they have no reason to be happy. Their  happiness is held hostage to a certain set of beneficial occurrences, whether it's love, friendship, approval, spiritual achievement, career advancement, good food, a nice home, a new gadget, a special life cycle event, etc. This is all a self delusion! It's possible to cut the rope and set one's happiness free.

This is like a person who talked himself into setting up residence in a prison on his own volition. He thought that he wasn't deserving of anything better. He didn't know that legally he was a free man.  After many years, someone kindly enlightened him about legal rights. Though he's already conditioned into thinking of prison as home, he can muster up the strength to walk out with little outer resistance. If he encounters any difficulty, it's only in his own mind.

 Similarly, people are conditioned to think their happiness live in prison. It can only emerge for brief appearances when the inner jailer is paid his ransom in the currency of certain favorable events. Even then, it’s on a leash ready to be choked back at the slightest hint of difficulty.  What is often not realized is that the inner jailer's power is illusory. He can be stripped from rank at the slightest whim, disappearing with barely a whimper.

Events do not have to go our way for us to be happy. Happiness and life occurrences are two distinct phenomena. Their whole linkage to begin with is artificial. It's possible to be high on life without reason, “just because ...” Happiness is simply a soul sensation. Souls are naturally happy. We can just allow the happiness to flow.

Part of the Kabbalistic goal of "Repairing the World" is to change around what's linked to what. Some things just don't belong linked together and maintaining their artificial linkage blocks their growth. Other things do belong together, like a good marriage, and bringing them together enhances their growth. The link between happiness and beneficial occurrences is unhealthy. It's an exile for each. When the rope is cut, happiness can be our constant self and difficult events can be more easily sorted through and addressed. As long as personal happiness is on the line, the situation is too emotionally entangled and efforts to resolve them are often compromised. The separation creates a win/win situation. 

 Now it's possible to appreciate why the mystic master requested such deep happiness from the seeker before initiating him into the mysteries. It's the ultimate indicator of a free soul, ready to spiritually advance.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Higher Time

For a while I wondered whether time in the spiritual realms is non-linear. By now, I think the short answer might be that our time frame is non-linear on those realms, but their own time frames are linear to themselves.

What got me thinking about this is an episode that happened a few months ago. A mid-wife who lives in my community related to me that she experienced non-linear time. She elaborated by sharing an episode that occurred while she was servicing a client about to give birth. The two strolled arm in arm, as the mid-wife provided the expectant mother with physical support to stand erect. Suddenly, initially unknown to the other, each woman slipped in time and spent a moment in an ancient village. Later on when they shared with each other the details of their respective experiences, they realized that they shared the exact same experience. They were both in the village at the exact same moment.  She concluded that for her this experience was a brush with non-linear or spiritual time - as she had free access to a slice of time in the human past.

There are others who also seemed to have experienced higher time. Among these are the people who had NDE's (near death experiences), prophets and psychics. I've actually heard of an NDE where the subject met the soul of someone still earthbound. Since time in the spiritual realms is different, a person may be alive from an earth based perspective and yet from a higher realm perspective could have already passed on.

Kabbalah teaches that every universe is composed of three basic elements: time, space and life. This pattern doesn't change, as it comprises the very definition of any universe; physical or spiritual. What can change is the degree of divine revelation lighting up the patterns of time, space and life. When more divine light pours into them, then that particular universe gets a boost in energy level, becoming more spiritually advanced.

Since every universe has a unique time pattern, every universe also has it's own unique version of past, present and future - linear time. So regardless of the realm's spiritual level, its time pattern is linear, but in a way that's consistent with the style of its realm.

Yet, when a being from a lower time frame has a brief encounter with a higher time frame, the higher time is experienced as non-linear. Perhaps, this is because each time unit in a higher realm has so much more compressed into it, both in quantity and quality, then a unit of time in a lower realm. So someone who for some reason, be it an NDE, prophetic moment, a psychic experience, encounters higher time perceives each time unit as being so much "busier" than a unit of time within our own framework. There's so much more packed inside each unit. It takes more units in our far more limited framework to stretch out a single unpacked unit coming from that far more advanced framework.

This difference between lower and higher time reminds me of a child learning how to read, laboriously piecing together the letters to sound out a single word; first a "p" then an "l" then an "a" then a "n" then a "t". Initially struggling to pronounce every letter in the sequence, the young reader attempts to piece them together, sounding out each letter on it's own and then finally pronouncing, "plant". While reading this word for the very first time was slow and choppy, fast forward a few years later and the same reader reads the same word with barely a glance. What was previously viewed as a laborious sequence of letters is now handled as a single unit ~ a word. The past tiny units, the letters, with growth gave way to more advanced encompassing units, words.
So while an educated reader barely notices the sequence of letters and really sees words as whole units, without concentrating on their individual letters there's still a sequence to reading; only it shifted away from letters towards bigger units, words.

A similar idea applies to the experience of time. Our time sequence is like a beginner reading the "letters". Higher time is like the educated reader comfortably recognizing whole words, almost like shapes, barely noticing the individual letters which cast their form. Yet, like whole words sequentially coming together to string together a sentence, higher time also has it's own string of linear sequence ~ just comprised of much grander units. 

On the rare occasions that people encounter higher time, huge spans of past, present and future seem rolled up into a single unit. Perhaps, the entire vast span of earthbound time units, in higher realms might amount to less than a single time unit. Therefore, when entering higher time units which are far richer and grander, the customary earthbound sequence gets lost in the largess of the greater time scheme. It barely registers as a faint letter in the grand sweeping novel of higher time.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

My six year old son knocks on my eight year old daughter's room on a Sabbath morning begging her to come out to play. 
She protests,"Go away, the Sabbath is made to rest".

"No !" He responds. "The Sabbath is made for cakes."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Inner War

I've learned in Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi's teachings on this week's Torah portion "When you go out to war ..." that a war can be waged and won simply by addressing an opponent's deeper spiritual needs. On the surface the opponent is saying one thing, but, deep down inside he means something else. Don't address his surface. Address his depth. It might sound a bit like Tai Chi or Aikido, but, in essence you are helping your opponent win his own inner war. You're just coaching him along.
To do this you need to in some way know your opponent better than he knows himself. Otherwise, you won't be able to identify the deeper spiritual needs which he only has a vague sense of because though he's haunted by their too abundant voices, he's equally haunted by their too scant words. So trying to satisfy the demands of these incoherent voices leads him along painful paths. If you meet him on one of these frustrated paths and try to get him off without providing an appropriate alternative, you’ll upset him. Seeing your efforts to block his "progress" towards finally reaching his "life's calling", he regards you as an opponent. He reasons, "How would someone who really cares about me do such a thing?"
So you need to show him that you not only know the "voices" that haunt him, but, you also know their meaning. You can fill in the missing words that the voices seem to be saying, but, somehow disburse into incoherent sounds on their way to his ears. How do you magically reconstruct those disfigured words?
Every human inclination has a matching Torah version which is healthy, sweet, and happy. Through Torah an inclination can be practiced in a way that brings light into the world. A person can become a co-creator channeling the Creator's blessings in a particular area of life. For example, a physician can become the Creator's channel for healing. By seeing the general path the person is on, he can be befriended and shown how he can align his core inclination with the message and advice of the Torah, yielding more effective outcomes.
The Torah supplies the vague incoherent voices with their missing words and instructions.  It's my understanding based on a teaching from Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad that the Messiah will use this technique to win the world over to his spiritual cause. This is why his peace will be permanent. Prior world victories, left behind aggrieved parties. This seriously compromised their potency. Being undermined by pain and bloodshed, they can't last. This is why the "captive woman" in this week's Torah Portion is likely to bear a rebellious son. Though the Ohr Chaim points out that there was a spark of Jewishness in her, connecting her to the holiness of the Jewish People, still she was ripped out her life by force - like an unripe fruit plucked too early. Yes, it's a victory, but, it's compromised. On the other hand, a woman whose heart was peacefully won over and was inspired to voluntarily convert, like Ruth, can become the Matriarch of the entire royal Davidic dynasty. 
Therefore, the Messiah will win over human hearts without bloodshed. There will be no aggrieved parties. The resulting peace will be everlasting. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Taste & Smell


“Don’t argue regarding taste and smell” - a Jewish adage

One evening, while I was patronizing a Starbuck’s cafĂ©, the help behind the counter suggested that I try a newly featured coffee. When I explained that I already tasted it and found it too bitter, she expressed surprise that I did not enjoy a brew in such popular demand. I asked her to please not worry about it, in Hebrew we have a saying, “Al ta’am v’al rey’ach al m’fah’kay’ach” which means, “Don’t argue regarding taste and smell”. (I know … in Hebrew the phrase comes out more poetic.) I was trying the phrase on her, to convey, “Please don’t take it personally if I am uninterested in what you are recommending. Taste and smell are very subjective and can vary widely from person to person.”

Even though I was employing the adage to convey a simple message, truthfully, the saying is very ripe with mystical meaning. Different creature’s experience the universe so radically differently that many of them perceive themselves are living in different universes. An angel and a human would probably not consider each other to be inhabitants of the same universe. The human thinks of himself as dwelling in physical time/space; whereas, the angel considers himself a dweller of spiritual time/space. From the perspective of the human and the angel, their realms don’t meet. Yet, strangely they share the same universe. They just experience it very differently.

“Taste and smell” are in this poetic phrase representative of all perception. Chassidic mysticism teaches that “taste” refers to what Kabbalah calls “inner light” – light which streams into a vessel, filling it with life. The containing entity becomes alive; just like a body when the soul's lights pours in.  “Smell” refers to what Kabbalah calls “surrounding light” – light which is too pure to be taken into a vessel and only exerts a vague influence, behaving as if it’s outside the containing entity. An example of this are soul levels too pure to enter into the human body. Yet, these higher soul levels often interact with the soul lights entering the body.

Examples of inner and surrounding light abound abundantly throughout reality. The reason why taste is “inner light” is because it’s a sensation that occurs while taking something in – like food. Smell is a sensation which occurs even before food is taken in. It’s a vague foreshadowing of the taste to come.

There's often a broad consensus on what tastes and smells people enjoy. However, this overlap in human preference does not mean that a particular taste or smell feels exactly the same to everyone. The fact that some like a dish and even a few don’t, teaches us that even our most physical of senses are subjective and literally wired to pick up differently. I remember when I was introduced to using of cilantro as a condiment I was warned, “People either strongly love it or strongly dislike it. There’s no such a thing as a person who’s neutral about cilantro.”

From the phenomena of taste and smell we can appreciate the subjectivity of the rest of our sensory perceptions. If humans, who are of the same species and in general share a common biology, exhibit such variety in their sensory experiences, then certainly between species there are vast varieties of sensory perceptions, altering their experience of the universe. Their experiences of the universe can be so radically different that some creatures would not consider themselves as inhabiting the same universe as other creatures at all. It’s all in what powers of perception particular creatures were designed with.

What’s so interesting is how what we experience as a “universe” is probably not really even a universe at all. Rather, it’s more like the very best a dream character can do to experience his Dreamer. If he really experienced the Dreamer, he’d disappear into the Dreamer’s consciousness. So really from the character’s perspective, the surrounding dreamscape is the extent of his experience of the Dreamer. Only it’s constrained by what his powers of perception can handle. Anything more and his identity deftly vanishes into the Dreamer’s consciousness, seamlessly dissolving into the Dreamer's identity. This is what happens when the Dreamer awakes – the lesser self becomes absorbed by the Greater Self.

Just as the dreamscape is all of the Dreamer the dreamed can handle, so too, the universe we see in front of us is all of the Creator our five senses can handle. The vast array of potent spiritual lights an angel perceives is all of the Creator an angel can handle. Anything more, is much too overwhelming. The angel will disappear in the act of being absorbed into his Higher Source. 

So really in the ultimate sense, there’s only the Creator!  The vastly varied perceptions of the universe are really a range of varied limited perceptions of the Creator.