Weekly Inquiry Phrase:
"What Hesed (loving kindness) is appearing now? What Hesed can I offer now?"
Chant Phrase: "Shviti Hashem L'negdi Tamid – I place the Divine Name before me continuously" (Psalm 16)
Teaching, Chant and Meditation
The matzah that is traditionally eaten this week represents two qualities: immediacy and intimacy.
Immediacy, because since there was a hasty departure from Egypt, the dough had no time to rise. This hints at the immediate accessibility of Reality/Divinity; there's no process to come to this moment. As soon as you intend it, you do it, now.
Intimacy, because the rising of dough is the separation of the substance of the dough away from itself, caused by the bubbles from the yeast. This is a wonderful metaphor for what happens in consciousness: we identify with certain aspects of our experience, such as thoughts and feelings, and objectify other aspects of our experience, such as things happening in our environment.
But everything in experience is, by definition, made of consciousness. So when we become present, the "dough" of consciousness is permitted to collapse into itself, like the thin matzah. This moment is experienced simply as it is, without separation.
These two aspects, immediacy and intimacy, also correspond to the two "wings" of prayer – Yirah and Ahavah, Fear and Love.
Yirah is not the anxious fear of worry and anxiety, it is simply a healthy respect for danger. In this sense, Yirah means being careful with your own mind, being watchful, guarding yourself against too much meandering of thought.
Ahavah, Love, means being open and giving of yourself to the fullness of Being as it manifests now, in an open hearted, even passionate way. It is regarding the immediacy of Reality as the Face of the Divine, and remembering the Divine constantly, similarly to how you might constantly think of a person you're infatuated with.
Yirah and Ahavah also correspond to the dual practice of Shamor V'Zakhor, Guarding and Remembering, alluded to in the Shabbat hymn, L'kha Dodi.
Shamor, "guarding," means guarding your own mind. Zakhor, "remembering," means remembering that the Divine is present as whatever is living in your experience, right now. This practice of Zakhor, remembering the Divine, is expressed in the Sufi practice of chanting Divine Names, known as zikr. Although this is a sufi practice, the son of Moses Maimonides, Avraham Maimonides, claimed that the Sufis had preserved the ancient practices of Israel in their zikr, and that the Jews could recover their ancient lineage of chanting Divine Names by re-adopting it from the Sufis!
There's a hint of this in the verse (Exodus 21:29):
בְּכָל־הַמָּקוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַזְכִּ֣יר אֶת־שְׁמִ֔י אָב֥וֹא אֵלֶ֖יךָ וּבֵֽרַכְתִּֽיךָ
In all places that I cause My Name to be remembered – azkir et Sh'mi – I will come to you and bless you.
The understanding of azkir, "I will cause to be remembered," is not merely a mental remembering, but remembering through chanting the Name. That's why many English translations of this verse translate azkir as, "I will cause to be spoken."
There's a story about Rabbi Israel, the Maggid of Koznitz, that he used to visit the town of Apt every year in order to visit the grave of his father. One time while he was visiting, the townspeople came and asked if he would preach in the synagogue on Shabbos as he did last time.
"Why would I do that?" he replied, "There's no evidence that the preaching I did last time did any good."
The townspeople were greatly upset, and gathered around his inn to try and persuade him. Finally, a craftsman went in and knocked at his door. When the Maggid opened the door, and the craftsman said, "You claim that your preaching last year did no good, but that's not true. I heard you teach that a person should always practice the verse from Psalm `16, שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד – Shviti Hashem L'negdi Tamid – I place the Divine Name before me constantly. Since then, I always keep the Divine Name in my mind, remembering that the Divine is always present in every moment."
"In that case," replied the Maggid, "I will come and preach."
Audio for streaming or download:
Audio for streaming or download:
שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
Shviti Hashem L'negdi Tamid
I Place the Divine Before Me Constantly
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks