Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cosmic Dreamscape

Since much of the dynamics in the relationship between the Creator and creation is difficult for the mind to grasp, Jewish mystics have traditionally employed a variety of metaphors drawn from everyday experience to help explain this relationship. While none of these metaphors are perfect. Despite their limitations, to some extant each one is helpful in explaining at least some aspect of the relationship. One of my favorite metaphors is to describe the relationship between a "dreamer and a dream". In this metaphor the dreamer is the Creator and the dream is the creation. Both a dream and the interaction between Creator and creation share enough features in common that this metaphor can really serve as a golden stairway into the abstract thought where an understanding of this special relationship resides.

It's my hope that this essay will illuminate some of these common features in an effort to explain monist thinking.  A monist is someone who believes that that the Creator is really the only existence. Monism is special stream of monotheism, with a philosophy of its own. Standard monotheism proclaims that there is only One Creator. The monist agrees, but, goes further to proclaim that the Creator is the only existence. I've encountered this style of monotheism first in Chassidic teachings. However, this belief shared by most Kabbalists. It also exists outside Judaism. For example, Neo-Platonism, an ancient Greek philosophy, was known for monism. Also, the Sufis, Islamic mystics, are monists.

According to monism the Creator is an Infinite being whose seamlessly One. This means that He has no dimensions, borders or parts. This raises a very central question, “If He's Infinite in this sense then He fills the entire existence. Where is there room for the creation?"

The answer is that the creation exists seamlessly integrated in the Creator - not as an outside independent being. Here is where considering the relationship between a dreamer and dream comes into play.  A typical dream has a dreamscape, i.e. the mental scenery which serves as the setting. The dreamscape is typically inhabited by dream characters. They are the beings whom the dream is about. Both the dreamscape and the characters are happening within the mind of the dreamer. As independent as the dreamscape and characters may seem, the whole dream is nothing other then the dreamer's own mind. Every drop of the scenery is the dreamer's mind. Every character is the dreamer's mind. If the dreamer were to awake, the whole dream would merge back into its source - the dreamer's own mind. There would no longer be a dreamscape or it's characters. There would just be the now awakened dreamer.

Often when people are exposed to the view that the creation is within the Creator, their initial reaction is to think of the creation as being nested within the Creator, perhaps in a similar way that a fetus is nested in a mother's womb. However, in the basic sense the fetus and mother can be viewed as two different beings. With both the Creator/creation and dreamer/dream there's only one being through and through. Any sense of independence is purely an illusion.

Since the Creator is the only existence, He's also the only living being. Anything else which seems alive, is really only drawing on a feature of His life and not alive on its own - like a wave on the sea. This is similar to a dream character whose whole life is really an extension of the dreamer's own life. If the dreamer were to stop dreaming for even one moment the dream character's identity would merge back into the dreamer's mind - dissolving any sense of self identity. This is because the dream is not the default state of the dreamer's mind, but, an unstable temporary condition in constant need of second to second rebirth - like a light bulb lit on a constant flow of electricity.
Similarly, the whole creation is not the default state of the Creator's Infinity. Creation is merely a finite experience within Infinity, an unstable temporary condition in constant need of second to second rebirth.  If the Creator stopped bringing the creation into existence for even a fraction of a second, like a dream, the whole creation would merge back into its source, dissolving within Infinity. 

When a dream dissolves in its dreamer's mind, the dreamscape and characters lose any sense of independence. It's paradoxical how complete contact with their very source of life is the end of their own life; at least, as an independent beings. In this state their true state is exposed. They are just seamlessly part of their source - the dreamer. Similarly, if creation were to dissolve back into the Creator, it's Source, there would just be Creator - no creation!

Therefore, for the creation to exist, there needs to be a space cleared from the Creator's revelation. In other words, though the Creator is ever present simply as a condition of His Infinity, He chooses whether to reveal Himself. He can project or withdraw His revelation at will; like an on/off switch. When He withdraws His revelation there remains an empty dark space. It's this darkness, that allows the various creations to feel like separate identities. A similar pattern occurs during sleep. While the sleeper's soul is still present, much of his/her soul's revelation withdraws from the body.  The dimming of soul light creates a dark space in the psyche, allowing dreams to occur. In this dark space, the remaining fragments of the dreamer's identity can come to life as dream characters, who seem to exhibit their own identities - independent from their dreamer.

After the Creator withdraw His revelation, A tiny wisp of His original revelation lingers, like a faintly dim glow cast throughout the dark area. This wisp was potent enough to turn into dream identities, but, not potent enough to give those identities a sense of continuity with their Source Identity, like rays extending from the sun. Instead, these new identities feel very self contained - leading eventually to selfishness. Similarly, when a dreamer's soul withdraws her revelation during sleep, the withdrawal is only partial. The dark mind space is still inhabited by a dim glow of soul - sufficiently potent to allow a dreamscape and characters to form, but, not potent enough to give those identities a sense of continuity with their source identity - the dreamer.

The whole creation is in some way a metaphor for it's Creator. Any and every aspect of creation can illuminate lessons about the Creator's ways.  With some basic contemplation, one can explore the Creator's ways crystallized through the lens of creation. I just picked one aspect of creation, dreams, to demonstrate the Creator's ways, I invite you to explore another aspect of creation that interests you and do same. You can share your findings and insights as a comment to this post.

Open To My Depth


Tonight, I realized ...

It's not too late to repair some of my mistakes, 
But, it might be too late in life to repeat them.

My past is riddled by attempts to share my depth,
While around me, they beg for my mere surface.

I wanted to give treasures from my inner sanctum,
While they tear at my pockets for a tidbit of candy.

Maybe, my quest to give depth is too premature?
Maybe, if I gave surface it would open to depth?

"Kindness follows kindness", echoes within me.
"This teaching will expand your serving vessel.

"True growth begins humbly with a foundation,
Skipping steps, builds illusory castles in the air.

"Just by growing your serving bowl correctly ...

"Opportunities to do small favors will find you.
Welcome them, for they are gifts from paradise! 
Small favors will open up to bigger kindnesses,
Bigger kindnesses will reach for an inner depth.
Then you will ladle out deliciously deep juices."


Monday, April 18, 2011

The Light of the 14th

The Talmudic discussion on Passover opens with the words, "On the night of the 14th [of Nisan, i.e. Passover Eve,] you shall search for the leaven ...". Strangely, the Talmud does not use the usual Hebrew word for "night", lai-lah. Instead, the Talmud uses the Hebrew word ohr - which really means "light".

So the opening words of the Talmud can be read as, "By the light of the 14th [of Nisan] you shall search for the leaven ...".

Inspired by this unusual reading, the Chassidic mystics teach that the Creator sends down a special spiritual light on that night to aid in the search for leaven. At times, I've found leaven very unexpectedly on this night - in areas I've supposedly cleaned well beforehand.

In one instance some years ago, I was searching for leaven in an office basement when my flashlight strangely fumbled out of my hands. Then it tumbled away and rolled along the carpeted floor. Upon settling, it beamed directly on a chunk of bread chunk, just inches away. For me this was definitely a "wow moment".

A similar instance happened just this past Passover Eve, while searching for leaven in my carefully cleaned car. I was surprised to encounter an army of crumbs residing all along the lower crevice of a gasket. Shocking !

There's a lesson here for everyone: We need the Creator's help to notice even what's right in front of us - in plain view.


Friday, April 8, 2011


Packaging spiritual concepts into art forms,
Is like packing nutrition into delicious foods,
As both help the perceived bland essentials,
Reach out to an ever wider range of people.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Rabbi Nissim Teaches

I - Visiting Brooklyn

In spring time 2001, Rabbi Nissim came to Brooklyn, NY from B'nei B'rak, Israel for medical treatment discreetly administered by a local Jewish organization, specializing in health care. Though his own intention was to visit the United States for healing, the Creator had another intention as well. What he did not anticipate was that his situation was going to bring him to a place in desperate need of a professional Kabbalah teacher - to teach the basic foundations.

Jewish Brooklyn at the time had a loosely organized "underground" of men who studied Kabbalah. They had no set place to meet. One night they'd meet in one synagogue and the next night in another. Often enough, the knowledge of the teachers far outpaced their teaching skills. They were not trained in how to properly present the material, even though they were often familiar with very advanced concepts. Consequently in their loving efforts designed to help their students grow, they often taught them concepts too far beyond their level.

Truthfully, there were some students who absorbed the material well in this setting. However, this was not the case for everyone who was trying to study Kabbalah. They were encountering challenges that could have been smoothed away with a more polished teaching style.

In response to this need, Rabbi Nissim gathered us into a Syrian synagogue on Ocean Parkway. A large room in the synagogue was set aside as his classroom. There, he thundered away for three hours a night, all summer long - from Sunday night through Thursday night. Truthfully, he should have been much too weak to teach. After all, he was undergoing a serious medical treatment. Yet, he behaved like a youthful lion on fire! His consistent energy level and constantly animated expression were amazing !

He taught us a modern abridged version of an older Kabbalistic classic. Over July and August, he completed this abridged version with us. By the end of summer, concurrently with completing the book, his healing session was also complete. During the final class, he urged us to organize as a group and build on the foundations he provided.

Throughout his classes, I was always fascinated with his charming style of delivery. His unique charm seemed to transcend the topic. For instance, there was a youth in the community who was suffering from Down syndrome. Rabbi Nissim invited him to sit right beside him each night for the three hour lecture. The youth clearly was not able to understand the teachings. Yet, he seemed just as fascinated as everyone else who did. His face lit up with interest. Sometimes, he even imitated Rabbi Nissim's gestures and expressions with glee. 

For the past ten years I wondered, "What is the secret of Rabbi Nissim's charmingly animated expression?"

II - The "How" ?

Just recently, I had the opportunity to watch Rabbi Nissim teach on video. Soon after watching, a spark of insight flashed within my mind.  It occurred to me that just like the Torah scroll is read with a standard ritual intonation designed to reflect the gestures and expressions that are intended to accompany the words, so too, all Torah teachings share in this quality as well. Judaism's teachings are designed to be communicated with full bodied expression - not just words. This might be the reason why in ancient times a significant part of Judaism's teachings were kept oral, not committed to writing. This allowed disciples to absorb not only "what" the master said, but "how" the master said.

The "how" includes the entire range of non-verbal communication: tone of voice, rhythm of voice, facial expressions, motions, posture, gestures, body language, etc. Together, all these factors animate words, providing them with an expanded context - more dimensions. Sometimes, more can be said with a facial expression or a hand signal than with an entire sentence.

Kabbalah teaches that the Torah, both written and oral, is not just an intellectual subject, but rather a living spiritual stream of divine will and wisdom. This stream flows downward through each and every spiritual realm, finally reaching down to people who study Torah with proper purity, selflessly.

To the extent a person studies selflessly, there is an absence of internal blockages, allowing the stream of Torah to freely flow through the entire person.  When such a person teaches others, it is evident that the person isn't simply a "talking head". S/he comes across fully animated! The living stream of Torah continues her flowing course through the person's every communicative faculty - rhythm of voice, tone of voice, facial expressions, eyes, hands, feet, motions, body language, etc.

Therefore, when Rabbi Nissim teaches, his whole being channels the flow the Torah. She not only comes pouring out of his mouth, but from his whole being. So even people who do not necessarily understand his words, somehow feel reached when he communicates. This explains why the Down syndrome youth was not bored at all. Actually, he was very fascinated for an entire stretch of three hours, five nights a week.

Also, this explains how Rabbi Nissim had such strength to teach in the midst of illness. The strength he did not have
naturally on his own was given to him by the living stream of Torah, as she flowed her healing waters into every fiber of his being. The Torah herself became his strength and healing.

III - Going Deeper

Kabbalah teaches that the Creator interacts with everything through ten modes of divine expression. They are known as the "ten sefirot". They are: crown, wisdom, understanding, kindness, restraint, compassion, dominance, submission, connection and final outcome.

They are cosmically powerful. The Creator used them to create the universes. The ten sefirot simultaneously became the guiding model, crafting tool and the building blocks of creation. Every detail of creation is modeled on the ten sefirot, crafted with the ten sefirot and as a final outcome becomes its own set of ten sefirot.

In a very general sense, the first entity designed on the model of ten sefirot is the Torah. By contrast, the very last entity to be created with the ten sefirot is mankind. Beginnings and ends have a special relationship, since the end is the very goal the beginning was striving for. Consequently, even if they are at opposite poles from each other, surprisingly they share very close relationship with each other.

If a human being attains a heightened state of spiritual purity, s/he channels the Torah's stream of ten sefirot through his or her own set of ten sefirot, in perfect alignment. For example, the Torah's wisdom can stream through person's wisdom and the Torah's compassion can flow through the human's own compassion. As the Torah's ten sefirot flow through a person's ten sefirot, s/he literally becomes a living Torah - continuous with the stream of Torah. In this state the Torah speaks through the entire person, every inch flows forth Torah.

Probably, this is what occurs when Rabbi Nissim teaches, his own ten sefirot align with the Torah's ten sefirot. Without a trace of blockage, the living stream of Torah just gush forth from his full being, animating him on a level where he almost automatically communicates the Torah's love and message on multiple levels - not just from his mouth ! Therefore, even those who don't understand him verbally, still pickup on Torah vibes flowing through him. What a privilege it is to be such a human being!