Weekly Remembrance Phrase:
"Doing my best, yet knowing I have no control whatsoever..."
This episode explores the paradox of responsibility to do our best, on one hand, and yet realize that we have no control whatsoever, on the other. Responsibility and Freedom in One. It is the also the fifth episode and chant from the mystical prayer, Ana B'khoakh and connects with this week's Torah portion, Parshat Matot. To access the other four teachings on Ana B'khoakh, Click here for the first, here for the second, here for the third, and here for the fourth. Or, check out those and many others in the new index (under construction).
Teaching, Chant and Meditation
Audio for Streaming or Download:
The fifth line of the mystical prayer Ana B’khoakh says, Hasin Kadosh- Powerful and Holy- B’rov Tuv’kha- In Your abundant Goodness- Nehel Adatekha- Guide Your congregation.
Let’s look at that last phrase- Nehel Adatekha- Guide Your congregation. Why would you pray for guidance? Obviously, it’s because we human beings do something called, “making mistakes.” What does that mean to make a mistake? It means that we intended one thing with our actions, but we got something else. For example, just the other day, I looked out the window and saw my wife and five-year-old daughter leaving for work and camp. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, so I slipped on my sandals and ran outside as fast as I could to catch them before the car drove off.
But, it turned out, my wife was playing a game with my daughter in which they were trying to get out of the house without me noticing, which was fun for our daughter and helped to get her moving out the door. When I ran out, my daughter started screaming and crying because thought she lost the game and got all upset. So then my wife had to leave with a screaming daughter in the backseat.
Now, of course, my intention in running out was to have a nice goodbye with them. The result, however, was a stressful ugly moment that probably continued for some time for my wife as she drove away with a bitter, screaming child. Hopefully it didn’t last too long. But the point is twofold: first, I made a mistake. Second, I couldn’t have not made that mistake. Right? There was no way for me to know about the game they were playing; it had never happened before. Of course, now I’ll think twice before running and saying goodbye to them in the car, but in that moment, there was no way I could have known.
And that is, in fact, the very nature of a mistake; a mistake, for the most part, means that you had no control over it. It wasn’t your intention. And, it’s the nature of being human that you’re going to make mistakes. Of course, it seems like it would be nice not to make mistakes, so that’s what this prayer is saying: Reality gives us situations in which we are bound to make certain mistakes, so on the surface, the prayer is crying out, “Hashem, please guide us – Nehel Adatekha – so that we don’t inadvertently cause all kinds of chaos and suffering.”
But there’s a deeper level that emerges when we look at the preceding phrase: B’rov Tuv’kha- In Your abundant Goodness- Nehel Adatekha- Guide Your congregation.
Okay on the surface, this seems to make sense. You want good things to happen, or things that you think are good anyway, so the prayer is invoking God’s goodness. But if we look a little deeper, we might ask, what is goodness, anyway? Most of the time, when we talk about goodness, we talk about it in relation to something else. Like we might say that a particular world leader is “good for the Jews” or not. Or we say that a food is good, because we enjoy it. In these examples, goodness is defined by being in positive relation to something else.
But in the very beginning of the Torah we have a different framing of goodness in the story of the creation of the universe. Every time God creates something new, it says “Vayar Elokim ki tov- and God saw that it was good.” It doesn’t say why it was good, it doesn’t say that it was good in relation to anything else, God just “sees” it, and it’s good.
And this brings us to the deeper meaning of goodness, which is that when you simply see what is there, not judging whether something is good or not, but just seeing, the just seeing is itself inherently good. Good in relation to what? Good in relation to everything. There’s nothing in your experience – nothing at all – that doesn’t benefit from your simply seeing what is in this moment. Because in the act of simply seeing, without judging, without pronouncing things as good or bad, you allow the moment to be whole, which means you allow yourself to be whole. You’re not contracting into one corner of your experience, judging something in the other corner, because the whole experience is you; you are the fullness of consciousness within which this moment is unfolding.
So, from this absolute point of view, there are no mistakes, because we’re not judging things anymore in relation to what we think is good, in relation to what we want. Rather, we are being the seeing. And in that simple seeing, there’s an absolute goodness even when there’s “bad stuff” going on, because the simple seeing frees you from the tzar – the narrowness of a limited point of view.
So really there are two levels here in this verse. First there’s the ordinary level; we intend to do something good, and if it doesn’t turn out that way, that’s called making a mistake. We don’t have any control over whether we make mistakes; that’s why they’re called mistakes. So, on this level, we’re acknowledging that we’re not in control of what happens, so we cry out Nehel Adatekha – Guide Your congregation. In other words, help us to act in a way that will be successful, so we don’t have to mess up so much.
But on a deeper level, it’s saying to guide us b’rov tuv’kha- with Your Abundant Goodness. And what is God’s goodness? “Vayar Elokim ki tov- and God saw that it was good.” God’s abundant goodness is in the seeing of what is. So, on this level, there are no mistakes, because things are mistakes only in relation to a mind that intends and judges. But to awareness itself, there’s a wholeness to Reality as it is, beyond judgment and control.
There’s a hint of these two different levels in the Torah parshah that talks about vows and oaths.
In Parshat Mattot, it says that if a person makes a vow to do something, or takes an oath not to do something, “lo yakhel d’varo- his word shall not be desecrated or emptied – k’khol hayotzei mipiv, ya’aseh – as everything that comes from his mouth, he shall do.”
So, on the surface this is talking about keeping your word. You say you’re going to do something, you should do it. But on a deeper level, when we have an intention to do something or not do something, there’s a reason for the intention. The point is not necessarily the act itself, but the result that you intend through the act.
For example, let’s say you go to work not because you necessarily like your work, but so you can make money. And you make money not because you like the money, but because you want to use the money to benefit your family. But then let’s say you use the money to buy food for your family, and someone in your family has a terrible allergic reaction to the food and gets really sick, God forbid.
So now there’s a contradiction between your intention and your action; that’s called making a mistake. So, on this level, the Torah is saying that there should be a unity between your intention and your action – lo yakhel d’varo- don’t make your intentions mere empty words by doing things or not doing things that bring about the opposite result. Instead, be conscious, be attentive, be careful and do your best to act with wisdom.
But wait a minute, you might say. That’s good and well, but in the example that I just gave, the food allergy isn’t something you could have known about in advance; it was a mistake. That’s the whole nature of mistakes – we don’t intend them. They happen by accident. And while it’s true and good to be as conscious and wise as you can, it’s also true that you’re going to make mistakes, because ultimately, we are not in control of what happens.
So then, the next verse says, that if a child vows to do something or swears not to do something, and her father hears about it and prevents her from fulfilling her oath, Hashem yislakh lah- God forgives her, ki heini aviah otah- because her father had restrained her; it wasn’t in her control.
So, who is this child the Torah talks about? It’s us. We may act with a certain intention, but the “parent” can prevent that intention from happening. Who is the parent? It’s Reality Itself – it’s the Truth of what is – as it says, Emet malkeinu efes zulato – Truth is our king and there is nothing else, meaning, there is nothing but the Truth of what is – there is nothing but God.
And so, this is the paradox: on one hand, yes you should be as conscious and careful as you can with your actions – k’khol hayotzei mipiv, ya’aseh – make sure you do your best to bring about the positive result that you intend. But on the other hand, know that you have absolutely no control whatsoever over what happens. So, don’t beat yourself up over your mistakes; that’s just the ego clinging to a self-image of being successful, or good or whatever. Instead, surrender to the Truth and know that Hashem yislakh lah – you are forgiven because you weren’t really in control in the first place, so you must forgive yourself if you want to be free from hameitzar- from the separateness and narrowness of ego, and really experience anani hamerkhav Yah- the infinitely vast expansiveness of the Divine.
But how do you do that? How do you come to forgive yourself so that you can experience Hashem yislakh lah – that you are truly forgiven for all your mistakes? Ultimately there is only one way, and that is that you have to forgive everyone else! As it says in Vayikra- Leviticus 10:18, ve’ahavtah l’reiakha k’mokha – love your neighbor as yourself – and if you’re not sure what it means, that you should love others like you love yourself, then right before that it says, lo titur et b’nai amekha- don’t bear a grudge against the children of your people.
So to help us connect with rov tuv’kha – Your abundant goodness – meaning, the goodness of simply seeing the fullness of this moment without resistance, without judging others and without judging ourselves – just Being with what is, let’s chant B’rov tuv’kha – In Your abundant goodness – nahel adatekha – guide Your congregation. In other words, help us Hashem to be successful with our good intentions, but also guide us ever back beyond the ego that judges and struggles, into the spaciousness and freedom of Presence.
B'rov Tuv'kha, Nahel Adatekha
With Your Abundant Goodness, Guide Your Congregation
Weekly Remembrance Phrase:
"Everything is made out of consciousness, I am that consciousness..."
This episode explores two layers of mind that you must pierce through to break the spell of separateness. It is the also the fourth episode and chant from the mystical prayer, Ana B'khoakh and connects with this week's Torah portion, Parshat Pikhas. To access the other three teachings on Ana B'khoakh, Click here for the first, here for the second, and here for the third, or check out those and many others in the new index (under construction).
Teaching, Chant and Meditation All-In-One
Audio for Streaming or Download:
Good Shabbos friends. Parshat Pinkhas begins in the aftermath of a plague that God put on the Israelites, because they had been seduced by the Midianites into an idolatrous orgy. At its climax, The Israelite man Zimri and the Midianite woman Kozbi are engaged in sexual union in front of everyone, and the zealot Pinkhas comes along and kills them both by piercing them through with a spear, causing the punishing plague to subside. God then says in the opening of the parsha, that Pinkhas “heishiv et khamati- turned back my wrath from upon the children of Israel- b’kano et kinati- when he avenged my vengeance” or “my jealousy. Therefore, hin’ni, check it out- notein lo et briti shalom- I give him my covenant of peace.”
Woe, what is going on here. This sounds like the vengeful, jealous God that everyone loves to hate. What kind of a God is that, right? A God that’s jealous, a God that kills people and so on. And yet, in a sense, that’s actually perfectly true. From a certain point of view, God is a vengeful, jealous God that kills people. Not literally, of course, but this is scripture. It’s pointing to something spiritual in the language of the time it was written. So what is it pointing to?
There is a basis, or a foundation for everything you’re experiencing right now. Whether we’re talking about things that appear to be outside of you- like the sensory world, what you see, what you hear, or things that appear to be inside you, such as feelings or thoughts, everything is perceived only because of this miracle called consciousness. And in the field of your experience, everything you perceive is, in fact, made out of consciousness. So that thing that I see over there is nothing but consciousness, because seeing is a function of consciousness. And, in fact, the sense of “me” that sees the thing over there, this body/mind that I call me, is also something that I perceive, so it too is just a form of consciousness. So the thing I see and the me that sees are both forms of one consciousness.
And yet, as you know, most people have no sense of that at all. There’s just the sense of me over here in this body and that thing over there that I see. Why? Because we’re constantly framing our experience with language that reinforces the belief that things are objective and separate. The language we use refers to “me” and “that thing over there,” and so our thinking which is largely made out of language, is deeply conditioned with this assumption of separateness, even though our experience right now tells us otherwise. But to really see what our experience is telling us, we have to pierce a hole through the lie that’s created with our language.
And to do that takes a special effort because the language lie is two-ply. Just like good toilet paper. If you have only one-ply toilet paper, that doesn’t work too well. Good toilet paper has two layers of paper so that it doesn’t tear when you’re using it.
It’s the same with our minds- there’s two layers. The first layer is simply the fact that our minds are constantly going. Bla bla bla bla. It’s like a song that you get stuck in your head. Once that song is stuck, it just repeats over and over, because it’s created a groove in your nervous system. That’s why music is groovy. Dance music is always talking about “getting into the groove” and “making you move” because it’s playing on this tendency of the mind to get into grooves of thought patterns within which your mind moves. That’s the first layer you have to get through- the movement in the groove of constant thinking.
The other ply is the content of the groove- the nature of how language tends to work. How does language work? Well even right now as I talk about language, the words are creating the impression that language is this thing that “I” am talking about. So there’s the sense that “I” and the subject of this talk, language, are two separate things. This doesn’t get questioned unless we deliberately decide to question it, which is what we’re doing right now by the way, because it’s simply the background assumption of language and thinking- that there’s a me who thinks and talks, and there are things that the “me” thinks and talks about.
And yet we can, if we choose, notice that these words right now, as well as whatever concepts we’re talking about, as well as this body that’s talking, as well as the “you” that’s listening, are all living within and are forms of awareness. And as soon as we point this out, there can be this subtle but profound shift- and this is the shift into knowing that there’s only one thing going on. Hashem Eloheinu Hashem Ekhad- All Existence, all Being is not separate from Eloheinu- our own divinity, meaning consciousness, and Hashem Ekhad- All Existence is just this One thing that’s going on- consciousness in form. And how do you know this? Because you are Sh’ma- you are the listening, the perceiving, and nothing you perceive is separate from that.
Isn’t it funny that we tend to look for God, thinking we know the world but we have to find God, when in Reality, God is the only thing we really know? Meaning, we know that there’s Existence. And we know that the knowing and the Existence, are not separate. That’s Hashem Ekhad; that’s the Oneness of God right there. Or should we say, right here.
So if you choose to think in this very different, very counter-intuitive and yet very obvious kind of way, you can pierce through that ply of separateness almost instantly. Because even though it’s counterintuitive, it’s also really obvious. It’s really obvious that there’s only one Reality and this is it. How many Realities could there possibly be? Only one, because Reality just means whatever is. And it’s also totally obvious that you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything to find Reality, because there’s only ever one place to find it, and that’s always right now in your present moment experience.
So once you do that, and hopefully we just did it, the next step is to connect with the Presence of Being in form. Meaning, let your awareness really connect whatever is present, rather than continue with all that duality producing language. Just let yourself be present. This isn’t complicated- just notice what’s going on… and be conscious of your breathing. And in doing that, your mind effortlessly becomes quiet, and you pierce through the other ply- the layer of the constantly moving mind.
So once you’ve gotten through the two layers, and maybe you just have, Reality can be your friend, and the plague, so to speak, can be lifted. What’s the plague? It’s just the belief that you’re separate. And that’s why God can be thought of as jealous or vengeful. Not literally of course, but if you’re not paying attention to God, meaning you’re not seeing the underlying Being of everything, always focused on the conditional world, then you’re literally in exile from yourself. You’re identified with this tiny piece of who you really are, and you don’t even know it.
So this is why God gives Pinkhas the covenant of shalom- of peace and wholeness- for killing Zimri and Kozbi. Because what is Zimri? It’s like the word zemer- song. So Zimri is “my song”- meaning, the constant movement of the mind; the song that my thoughts are always singing. And what is Kozbi? Kaf-Zayin-Bet means a lie, a falsehood. So Kozbi means “my lie.” And when Zimri and Kozbi unite, that’s the two ply barrier of both constant thinking and the lie of separateness that Pinkhas is able to pierce through.
Now, what is Pinkhas? It’s Pey-Nekhs. Pey is a mouth, and Nekhs is bad, or unsuccessful. So Pinkhas knows the bad side of the mouth, meaning language, how it tends to make us unsuccessful in our quest for Truth. So he pierces through both layers, and receives the Brit Shalom, reminding us that whoever wants real peace and wholeness, must also pierce through the two-ply toilet paper of the mind.
Pinkhas also receives the Brit Kahunat Olam, the Covenant of Eternal Priesthood. Now what is the function of a priest? In the fourth line of Ana B’khoakh it says, Barkhem Taharem Rakhamem- Bless them, purify them, have compassion on them. That’s what the priests did and at other times, priestesses as well; they brought blessing upon the people. Yivarekhekha Hashem V’yishmarekha- May the Divine bless you and guard you. This is Barkhem- Bless them.
The next word is Taharem- Purify them. So in ancient times, they believed in spiritual contamination that came from sinning or from touching impure things, so people would come to the priests to bring offerings and do rituals of purification.
The third word is Rakhamem- Be Compassionate to them. The idea here is that everything we do creates the future. So in order to avoid the negative consequences of our sins, people would come to the priests who would be channels for Divine rakhamim, Divine compassion, allowing them come into right relationship with God.
But again, these three functions of the kohanim, the priests of the past, are hints at the special relationship we have with all beings that exist in our presence. As it says in the Torah (Shemot 19:6) “V’atem tihyu li mamlekhet kohanim v’goy kadosh- You should be a kingdom of priests and a holy people.”
So what does that mean? Barkhem Taharem Rakhamem- Bless them, purify them, have compassion on them.
Barkhem- Bless them. When you know that every being you meet is actually a form of consciousness, and that you too are consciousness, so that everything- not just people, but everything is b’tzelem Elohim- an image of God, meaning a form of Reality, then goodness can flow more easily from your heart and you can be a blessing to the beings around you.
Taharem- purify them. Remember, everyone and everything that’s in your presence is literally you; they’re a form of your own awareness. So don’t contaminate them with the pollution of your negative thoughts. Purify them by letting of negativity.
Finally, Rakhamem- have compassion on them, because they are as they are. Everyone is just as they are; so why hold grudges, when that only pollutes your own being? Pierce through the two layers of thought and see that clearly.
So as we chant these words, Barkhem Taharem Rakhamem- Bless them, purify them, have compassion on them, let yourself know the one thing you can know- that everything arising in this moment is b’tzelem Elohim, a form of Reality, a form of God. Come close to God by coming close to yourself, because it’s the same thing. And by “yourself” I mean, everything arising within your field of experience in this moment. Let’s sing…
Weekly Remembrance Phrase:
"Listening to the Voice of the Body..."
This episode explores the "pupil of the eye" as a metaphor of awareness. It is the third episode and chant from the mystical prayer, Ana B'khoakh and connects with this week's Torah portion, Parshat Balak.
To access the other two teachings, on Ana B'khoakh, click here for the first and here for the second, or check out those and many others in the new index that I'm building, thanks to the suggestion and extra support of Rahmaneh in New Mexico. Enjoy!
Teaching, Chant and Meditation All-In-One
Audio for Streaming or Download:
Ana b’kho’akh gedulat yeminkha tatir tzerura...
Ana- “please” – B’kho’akh Gedulat yeminkha – “With the strength of the greatness of Your right hand" – Tatir Tzerura – “untie the tzar – that which is narrow and contracted” meaning, the narrow, limited self-sense that we tend to imagine ourselves into.
Kabel rinat amkha, sagveinu tahareinu, Nora!
Kabel rinat amkha – "Receive the song of your people!" – Sagveinu Tahareinu, Nora – "Strengthen us, Purify us, oh Awesomeness!”
This mystical prayer, Ana B’khoakh, goes on to say:
Na Gibor dorshei yikhud’kha, k’vavat Shomreim –
Na Gibor- “Please, Divine Strength” – dorshei yikhud’kha- “those who foster Your Oneness” – k’vavat Shomreim - “like the pupil of an eye, guard them.”
This third line is unusual. If we’re asking God to guard us, to keep us safe, why are we likening ourselves to a bavat- a pupil of an eye? It seems like it would make more sense to say, please guard us like a baby, or guard us like a city, but guard us like a pupil? It’s a strange idiom.
So let’s go into this a little bit.
What is the pupil of an eye? The pupil is actually the opening through which pours the light that creates the images we see. The pupil is essentially a hole. And if you make eye contact with a person, it’s really the pupil of the eye that gives you the sense of eye contact being made. That’s why in all those zombie movies, when they want to make a person seem like they’re dead, they somehow take away the pupils from the actors’ eyes. Maybe they do with special contact lenses, maybe they use CGI, but however they do it, the effect of an eye with no pupil is the effect of there being nobody home. It’s a disturbing image to see a person’s eye with no pupil, because we somehow know intuitively that the pupil indicates consciousness- it indicates that there’s someone there.
Which is interesting, because everyone’s pupils look more or less the same. The color of people’s eyes are different, the shape of people’s eyes are different, the face in which the eyes are set is completely unique for each person. You can’t tell the identity of someone by their pupils; you need to see their face. And yet, it’s the pupil that tells you there’s consciousness, that there’s someone home.
And this fact of the pupil indicating consciousness, on one hand, yet also being nothing but an opening, on the other, is also a great symbol for who we really are. Are we our bodies? No. Are we our faces? No. Are we our feelings? Our thoughts? Our personalities? All of these things are part of us, but none of them are essentially us. The only essential ingredient is consciousness; and like the pupil of your eye, your consciousness is simply an opening. It’s not unique, it’s more or less the same for everyone, and yet it’s the most miraculous and precious thing. Without consciousness, everything else is just a shell; just a bundle of patterns.
So this prayer is crying out, in the first line, tatir tzerura- untie the bundle! Meaning, uncover and reveal this essential openness that we are, beneath the bundle of patterns of our bodies, our thoughts and our feelings, so that we can know ourselves as this simple openness, k’vavat- like a pupil.
Now there’s a certain paradox of consciousness which is also reflected in the pupil.
On one hand, the pupil is a simple openness, taking in the whole image of whatever is being seen. Similarly, consciousness is also the simple openness of experience. So in this moment, you may notice, there’s a richness to your experience- there’s your sensations, your senses, the movement of your breathing, any feelings or emotions that may be vibrating in your body, as well as thoughts that arise, persist for some time, and then dissipate. And all this richness is part of one unfolding experience in the present.
And yet, at the same time, when you’re aware of the full richness of experience that’s arising in this moment, there also arises the choice to entertain some things within your experience and to not to entertain other things. For example, some anger arises, or the impulse to judge or complain – and you can notice that it’s there, but not act on it. So on the deepest level, you’re saying “Yes” to it, you’re recognizing that this negative impulse exists in this moment, and that’s perfectly okay, but on the level of choice you can say “No” to it by choosing not to act on it; you just let it be there and then to let it dissipate.
On the other hand, an impulse may arise to really listen to the person talking to you, or to be generous in some way, and you may choose to say “Yes” to that impulse on both levels; you say “Yes” first to its existence, just as you would to anything that arises when you’re being present, but you might also say “Yes” to act on it. So on the deepest level of awareness, there’s a single “Yes” to everything that arises in the moment. That’s the akhdut- the Oneness, or non-duality of experience. But on the level of choice, there’s a “Yes” to some things and a “No” to other things; that’s the duality of discernment or wisdom.
This truth is also reflected in the metaphor of the pupil, in that we generally have two pupils. So on one hand the pupil is a simple openness to light which creates a single image, a single experience- that’s the akhdut, or Oneness level. And yet, there are two pupils, hinting at the yes and the no, the duality of choice that arises within the akhdut of the present.
There’s also a hint of this in the Torah story of Bilam the sorcerer.
In Parshat Balak, the king of Moav, whose name is Balak, becomes frightened of all these Israelites who are camping in a nearby valley. So, he sends messengers out to the mysterious, reclusive sorcerer Bilam to request that he put a curse on the Israelites. At first, Bilam refuses. But after several requests, he concedes and rides out on his donkey. Next, there’s a strange and unique passage- one of only two instances in the Torah of talking animals. (The other one is the talking snake in the Garden of Eden).
In this passage, Bilam rides out on his donkey through a vineyard, when suddenly an angel appears and blocks his path with sword drawn. But, only the donkey can see the angel; Bilam is oblivious to it. The donkey veers off the path to avoid the sword-wielding angel, and accidentally presses Bilam’s foot into a wall. Bilam gets angry and hits donkey with a stick, at which point the animal opens her mouth and speaks:
“Ma asiti l’kha-
“What have I done to you?”
Bilam yells back-
“Because you mocked me! If I had a sword I’d kill you right now!”
Says the donkey-
“Am I not your donkey that you’ve ridden until this day? Have I ever done anything like this before?”
“No,” says Bilam.
Suddenly, Bilam’s eyes are magically “uncovered” and he too sees the angel with the sword. Bilam bows, apologizes and offers to turn back. The angel tells him not to turn back, but he should be careful only say the words that the Divine will place in his mouth to say.
So, Bilam goes on his way, and meets up with King Balak, who pleads with Bilam to curse the Israelites. But, every time Bilam opens his mouth, he pronounces blessings instead. King Balak tries again and again to get Bilam to curse, bringing him to different places on a mountain overlooking the Israelite camp, as if that would change something. But every time, it just comes out more blessings. In Bilam’s final blessing, he says,
“N’um Bilam, b’no v’or un’um hagever sh’tum ha’ayin-
“The words of Bilam son of Beor, the words of the man with an open eye…”
“N’um shomea imrei El, asher makhazeh Shaddai, yekhezeh nofel ug’lui einayim-
“The words of the one who hears the sayings of God, who sees the vision of Shaddai, while fallen and with uncovered eyes-
“Mah tovu ohalekha Yaakov, mishkenotekha Yisrael-
“How wonderful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel…”
-and the blessings flow on from there.
So what’s going on here? Why is it that Bilam’s donkey perceives the angel before he does, and why do his eyes become “uncovered” as a result of the donkey speaking to him? And, once his eyes are uncovered, how does that allow him to “hear” the Divine voice, transforming curses into blessings?
So one way to grasp this passage is to understand that the donkey is your own body. There’s a tendency to take the body for granted, as if it’s just a vehicle to achieve your intentions- like a car, or a donkey that you ride on. But the spiritual potential of your body is to be a temple of Presence – a vessel for the light of your awareness.
So at first, Bilam is just hitting his donkey, trying to control it. That’s the ego- selfish, angry, and entitled. But when he starts listening to what the donkey is telling him, then suddenly he can see the angel and hear it speak. Meaning, when you become present with your body, anchoring your awareness in your breathing, then you can clearly see the nature of your impulses that arise, and hear the “angels of your better nature” so to speak. So rather than simply being taken over by yoru impulses, there’s space to really see which which ones are blessings and which are curses. That’s the “uncovering of the eyes” so to speak. There’s an impulse of anger, or an urge to put someone down- you can see that clearly and not be taken over by it. Or, there’s an impulse of love, of supportiveness, of listening- that’s a blessing, and you can choose that. That’s the Yes and the No of being conscious.
There’s a story that when Reb Yosef Yitzhak of Lubavitch was four years old, he asked his father, Reb Shalom Ber:
“Abba, why do we have two eyes, but only one mouth and one nose?”
“Do you know your Hebrew letters?” asked Reb Shalom Ber.
“Yes,” replied the boy.
“And what is the difference between the letter shin and the letter sin?” continued Reb Shalom.
“A shin has a dot on the right side, and the sin on the left.”
“Right! Now, the letter shin represents fire, and fire makes the light that we see by. The dots on the right and left are like your two eyes.
“Accordingly, fire has two opposite qualities. On one hand, it can give us life by keeping us warm and cooking our food; that’s the right dot. On the other hand, it can burn us; that’s the left dot.
“Similarly, there are things you should look at with your right eye, and things you should look at with your left eye. You should see others with your right eye, being warm and loving, but see candy with your left eye, not being taken over by that urge to grab at it!”
But to maintain your Presence in your body so as to be aware of your freedom to choose blessing and not curse, you have to be ever-watchful; you have to be on guard constantly. Just as the pupil of an eye- k’vavat- is an open space of perception, so your awareness is also an open space through which you can watchfully guard- shomreim- the movements and sensations of your body with gibor- with strength. And, in so doing, we become dorshei yikhudekha- the ones who foster or tap into the Oneness of Reality, the Oneness of this moment.
So let’s chant these words: K’vavat Shomreim. As you sing k’vavat, “like a pupil,” open your hands palms upward, to express the openness and transcendence of awareness. And when you sing Shomreim, “Guard Them,” bring your hands in, palms together, intensifying presence in your body. So k’vavat, open hands and aware of the open spaciousness of awareness beyond the body, the space around your body, then shomreim, bringing in hands and intensifying awareness within the body...
Like a Pupil (of an eye), Guard Them
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks