This week's chant comes from the Ashrei, which is a special prayer formed from three different psalms. The Ashrei is traditionally chanted three times per day- twice in the morning and once in the afternoon, and is seen as a particularly powerful tefilah by the early rabbis. The sages in the Talmud (Berakhot 4b) said that anyone who recited it three times per day will have a share in Olam Haba-the "World to Come." If you understand Olam Haba to mean the "Becoming World," then the Ashrei becomes a powerfully transformative practice that connects you to the Truth of this moment- the unique unfolding of Being that is happening always right now. This chant comes from the line that says, "Poteiakh et yadekha, umaspia l'khol khai ratzon- You open your hand and satisfy the desire all life."
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Kol Khai Chant
Poteakh et yadekha, Poteakh et yadekha
Umaspia l’khol khai ratzon, Umaspia l’khol khai ratzon
Kol Khai, Kol Khai, Kol Khai ratzon
(You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of all life)
A friend of mine was in a restaurant. The wait person took a really long time to bring his meal, and didn’t even come by to check in or apologize for long time. So, as he sat there waiting, getting more and more angry, he began plotting some really mean thing to say to the wait person.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. “Hold on a minute,” he says to himself. “I have never been hungry my whole life. In fact, I've pretty much always been able to go out to eat whenever I want to. I generally have much more than I need, I have never lived in a land where there was war or famine, I’m basically healthy, and so on, and so on, and here I am getting so mad just because I have to wait a little longer for my dinner.”
Now this was like a mini-spiritual awakening for him, and as his anger evaporated, he made the choice to not only be nice, but to give the wait person a blessing and a really big tip as well.
I love this story not only for the spiritual transformation that occurs, but because it’s an example of what can happen when we open up to deeper and deeper levels of truth. Have you ever been angry or resentful or judgmental, and you justify it by saying, “Hey, this is my truth. This is how I really feel.” Okay, so on one level it’s good to acknowledge the truth of how you feel. And maybe you’re even totally justified in feeling that way.
But the transformation in the story doesn’t negate the truth of the situation, it simply expands beyond it into a wider truth- a wider context within which those feelings of anger were arising. And within that broader context, the ego was unmasked and unplugged.
There’s a wonderful story in the Talmud along these lines, in Brakhot 10a. It says:
Once there were some boors, or gangsters who would hang out in the neighborhood of Rabbi Meir. They would taunt him and abuse him so much, that he prayed they should all die. Along comes his wife Beruria who says, “Mai datakh? Is there a reason? How could you pray such a thing?”
Rabbi Meir answers, "Mishum dikhtiv- but it says (in Psalm 104, verse 35), ‘Yitamu khatayim- let sinners die!”
Beruria answered back, “But does this verse say khotim which would mean sinners? No- the word is khatayim- which doesn’t really mean sinners, but rather that which causes people to sin- namely, the yetzer hara- the evil inclination”- or today we might call it, the ego.
Then, she doesn’t stop there, but she says:
"Go down to the end of the verse where it says, ‘ur’shayim od aynam- and let the wicked be no more.’ Now, if all the sinners were to die, would that mean there would never be any wicked people ever again? Of course not, because anyone in any future generation could become wicked at any point. Therefore, in order for the wicked to truly be no more, the psalmist must be praying not that wicked people should die, but that the underlying cause of wickedness should die. So Ela, rather, you should pray for rakhamim- for mercy on these people, that they should do Teshuvah, which means turning."
In other words, just like the guy in the restaurant, their consciousness should make a U-turn to see themselves clearly and become free from the forces of ego in which they are ensnared.
So how do we make this U-turn in consciousness, this teshuvah to unplug the antics of the ego? One way is to emulate the process in the story. Really look at what narrative underlies your feelings. In the story, there was a self-centered narrative that wait people should bring me my dinner right away- that’s what I’m paying them for- something like that. Then, bring in a different, wider narrative. In this case, it was the narrative of gratitude- there was so much blessing, that it became total inappropriate to complain.
And this, of course, is one of the functions of prayer- to practice reframing your experience in wider and wider contexts, so that you become an embodiment of wisdom, rather than ego. On a deeper level, you can ultimately come to see that everything happening arises as a manifestation of Reality, or God, and ultimately God is all there is, so there’s no longer any “me” to complain or feel entitled to anything.
These two levels are hinted at by the verse from the Ashrei, in Psalm 145, Poteakh et yadekha umaspia khol khai ratzon- You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of all life.
On one hand, this verse is acknowledging all the blessing that’s coming to you as a gift. Poteakh et yadekha- You open Your hand- umaspia khol khai ratzon- and satisfy the desire of all life.
At the same time, the words khol khai- all life- are also God, since God is the Reality of all being, the Hay HaOlamim- the Life of All Worlds. So on this level, God is the Giver and the Receiver- and there’s nothing but God, nothing but Reality, Nothing but What Is...
Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks