Shalom friends, and Hodesh Tov- Happy New Month!
Today is Rosh Hodesh- the New Moon of the month of Adar. The Talmud says, "Mishei nikhnas Adar, marbim simkha- when Adar enters, joy increases!" May we all experience an increase of joy in our lives and on this planet.
The reason for the increase of joy in Adar is the joyful holiday of Purim, which is based on the Biblical story of Queen Ester. Strangely, this Biblical book doesn't mention God's Name even once. The hint is that, unlike other Biblical stories where God is a character that says and does things, our actual experience of Divinity is the underlying Presence of Being that underlies all experience. God's Name isn't mentioned because the unfolding of events in the story implies an underlying intelligence that expresses itself through the characters and coincidences of the story- just like real life.
What a coincidence that the conditions for life on this planet are just right... what a coincidence that anything exists at all for that matter. The greatest miracle is not some supernatural event in a story like the plagues of Egypt or splitting the red sea. The greatest miracle is the fact of Being- right now.
Being aware of this greatest of all miracles- called "Radical Amazement" by R. Abraham Joshua Heschel- is a facet of Presence that can naturally blossom during meditation. But how do we keep this awareness during the hustle and sometimes chaos of daily life? How do we stay Present in Action?
That's what this week's teaching is all about. Enjoy...
Zekher (Remembrance Phrase for the Week):
"What does this moment need from me?"
Chant (from Psalm 147):
Nidkhei Yisrael Y'khanes, HaRofei Lishvurei Lev
The Outcast of Israel, The Divine Will Gather In, Healer of the Brokenhearted!
Teaching, Chant and Meditation Audio for streaming or download:
Teaching, Chant and Meditation Video:
Chant Only Audio for streaming or download:
Chant Only Video:
When we think of meditation, the image of quietly sitting still probably comes to mind. That’s because keeping your body still tends to be more conducive to the mind becoming still, and when your mind gets quiet, you can experience the spaciousness of your awareness beyond your thoughts- the space within which your thoughts arise. On the other hand, when your body is busy moving around and doing things, the mind tends to become busy as well, and you can lose connection with that depth of peace that’s available when you’re present.
However, you can be present even when you’re busy, and in fact part of the aim of quiet meditation is to help you be present in all of your life- not just when you’re sitting quietly. But of course, this is difficult because most of our actions are aimed at the future; we do things in order to bring about a certain result, and when your mind is focused on that future goal, your connection to the present can be reduced and become merely a means to get to some future moment in your imagination.
And on top of that, when things aren’t going very well, the effect is worse. For example, let’s say you’re about drive somewhere and your car doesn’t start. Or you’re about to pay for something and you can’t find your wallet. Things like this happen all the time, and when they do, the conflict between what you want to happen and what is happening can be emotionally irritating, creating frustration or anger- all of which have a strong gravity that pulls you away from Presence, and into the drama of your mental and emotional conflict.
So how do you counter all these tendencies so that you can really practice Presence in action?
This week’s Torah reading is Parshat Terumah. Terumah means an offering, or a contribution. It begins with God telling Moses to say to the children of Israel:
“Yik’khu li trumah me’eit kol ish asher yidveinu libo- Take for me an offering from every person whose heart is motivated to give…”
The offerings that they’re talking about range from precious metals, to animal skins, to incense spices, to pieces of wood- all things that will be used to build the mishkan- the portable temple that the Israelites carried with them as they travelled through the wilderness. The word mishkan comes from the root which means to dwell or be present, as in the word Shekhinah which means, Divine Presence. So in the opening of this parshah, we’re hearing about all the different ways the Israelites contribute toward the Sanctuary of Presence. But if we look more deeply, this opening verse gives us three hints about how we can be more present in our own actions.
The first and most important hint is in the name of the parshah- Terumah, which means, “offering.” If you want to be present in the busyness of daily life and overcome that tendency to see this moment merely as a means to get to some future moment, then let your actions be offerings. Whenever you do something, and you can do this many times a day, bring to mind that your actions are for the sake of serving something. Since most of what we do is often serving some purpose for others, this isn’t so difficult. But even when you do things for yourself like eating or resting, you can still offer it as a gift, because of course you have to keep yourself healthy in order to be of service to others.
And, the more you think of your actions as offerings, you might even get inspired to change the way you do things for the better, or even take on some new positive actions, or get rid of some not so positive ones. The point here to bring more consciousness into whatever you’re doing by acting with a loving spirit.
The second hint is implied in the words, kol ish- every person. In other words, every person has their own unique path. If you go around wishing you were someone else, or wishing you were in a different situation, you devalue your own path, and create an inner feeling of separation. But if you constantly take to heart that this moment is the moment to offer what only you can offer, regardless of whether it seems impressive in the external sense, then you can really inhabit your body and inhabit your actions. Furthermore, the words kol ish, every person, can also mean “all of the person.” In other words, put all of yourself into whatever you happen to be doing.
And that brings us to the third hint that’s implied in the words, “…asher yidveinu libo- whose heart is motivated to give…” This means, you can learn how to be present from whatever you’re really motivated to do. Notice how it feels when you’re doing things that you love, how you’re fully engaged and doing for its own sake, and bring that degree of presence to all your actions, even when you’re doing things you don’t necessarily want to do. In that way, everything you do becomes a kind of devotion or prayer.
There’s a story that the Baal Shem Tov was once smoking his pipe by the window, when he was taken aback by the sight of a man walking by, who glowed with the most beautiful holy Presence and joyful radiance. The Baal Shem asked a disciple who the man was, and his disciple told him that the man was a hose-maker.
So, the Baal Shem sent the man a message to please bring four pairs of hose. Soon after, the hose maker appeared before the Baal Shem, displaying his wares, light shining from his face. The hose were well made of good sheep’s wool.
The Baal Shem asked him, “How do you spend your days?” The man answered, “I ply my trade.”
“And how do you ply it?” asked the Baal Shem.
“I work every day until I have forty or fifty pairs of hose, then I put them into a mold with hot water and press them until they’re as they should be.”
“And do you do any special prayers or meditations?” asked the Baal Shem.
“I just recite the psalms that I know by heart, all day long as I work.”
After the Baal Shem had purchased the hose and the man left, the Baal Shem turned to his disciple and said, “Today you have seen the cornerstone which will uphold the temple until the coming of the Messiah.”
So what does the Baal Shem Tov mean when he says that this hose maker is the cornerstone of the temple until the Messiah? The temple, as we’ve seen, represents intensification of Presence. The Messiah means the end of exile, because the traditional belief is that when Moshiakh comes, all the Jews scattered throughout the world will be gathered in, and everyone will commune with the Divine in the temple once again.
But on a deeper level, exile isn’t only about being separated from your native land. Exile is what happens within when you don’t fully inhabit who you are and what you’re doing in the present moment. When that happens, your consciousness pulls away from itself, creating the experience of incompleteness. And in that inner exile, nothing is all that satisfying. But when you’re gathered in, so to speak, when you connect deeply with your actions, there’s a deep satisfaction even if you’re doing things that aren’t particularly exciting.
So in this week of Shabbat Terumah, the Sabbath of Offering, let’s practice making all our actions offerings, gathering ourselves back into the fullness of who we are and opening to the healing and wholeness that flows from that.
And to help us accomplish this, there’s a wonderful verse in Psalm 147 that’s chanted every day as part pesukei d’zimra, the verses of praise in the morning prayers. It says, Nidkhei Yisrael Yekhaneis- The Outcast of Israel will be gathered in. As we chant these words, allow yourself to be gathered in by the words of the prayer, fully coming into vibration of the chant in your body, inhabiting the movement of your breathing and the articulations of your lips. It then says, Harofei lishvurei lev- healer of the broken hearted. As you reunite with yourself and with the Divinity of this moment, you may feel some broken heartedness that wants to be healed. Let yourself open to pain if it’s there, and allow the healing power of Presence to flow.
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks