How can I experience Oneness directly through Jewish Meditation? Insights from Parshat Vayakhel and the letter ע Ayin...
Parshah Summary – P’shat (literal level)
The parshah opens with Moses assembling the Children of Israel and reviewing the mitzvah of Shabbat, followed by instructions for constructing the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Israelites bring the materials for its construction in abundance: gold, silver and copper; blue, purple, and red-dyed wool; goat hair, spun linen, animal skins, wood, olive oil, herbs and precious stones. They actually bring too much, and Moses has to tell them to stop.
A team of “wise-hearted” artisans build the Mishkan and its furnishings (as described in the previous Torah readings of Terumah, Tetzaveh, and Ki Tisa): three layers of roof coverings; 48 gold-plated wall panels, and 100 silver foundation sockets; the parokhet (veil) that separates between the Sanctuary’s two chambers, and the masakh (screen) at the fron, the ark, and its cover with the cherubim; the table and its showbread; the seven-branched menorah with its specially prepared oil; the golden altar and the incense burned upon it; the anointing oil; the outdoor altar for burnt offerings and all its implements; the hangings, posts and foundation sockets for the courtyard; and the basin with its pedestal, made out of copper mirrors…
Torah of Awakening
וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֑ם אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְיְ לַעֲשֹׂ֥ת אֹתָֽם׃ שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֥ם קֹ֛דֶשׁ שַׁבַּ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן לַיי כׇּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה ב֛וֹ מְלָאכָ֖ה יוּמָֽת׃
Moses assembled the whole assembly of the Children of Israel, and said to them: These are the things that Hashem has commanded you to do: On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day, it shall be for you sacred; a Sabbath of Sabbaths for the Divine; whoever does any work on it shall die…
- Shemot (Exodus) 35:1, 2 Parshat Vayak’hel
The Maggid of Zlotchov taught on this verse in which Moses is recounting the giving of the Ten Commandments: אָ֠נֹכִ֠י עֹמֵ֨ד בֵּין־יְהֹוָ֤ה וּבֵֽינֵיכֶם֙ – “I stood between the Divine and you…” -Devarim (Deutermonomy) 5:5.
“The ‘I’ stands between God and us; when you say ‘I,’ a wall stands between you and the Divine. But for one who offers the ‘I’ – there is no barrier. And this is what the words in the Song of Songs are referring to: אֲנִ֣י לְדוֹדִ֔י וְעָלַ֖י תְּשׁוּקָתֽוֹ – I am my beloved’s and his desire is toward me – when my ‘I’ has become my beloved’s, then it is toward me that His desire turns.”
The “Beloved” is nothing other than Reality; everything is God. Each moment we remember that everything is God, we are instantly and effortlessly reunited with the Beloved. It is not that God has gone anywhere; there is nothing but God, only you have become used to It. It is like walking with a lover, hand in hand. At first, you are on fire with love. But, if you keep walking, at some point you start to think about something else. Eventually you wouldn’t even notice that you are holding hands. To be reunited, in such a case, is to become aware of what is already present.
שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ – Six days shall work be done… It doesn’t say, “six days you shall work (ta’ase),” but rather “six days work shall be done (te’ase).” The passive form hints that a person should not identify with the work; there should be no sense of “I am doing this work.”
וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֥ם קֹ֛דֶשׁ שַׁבַּ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן – and on the seventh day, it should be for you sacred; a Sabbath of Sabbaths . . . It doesn’t say there should be a Sabbath among the weekdays, but rather a Sabbath among Sabbaths! Meaning, even the weekdays should be Sabbaths, in a sense. Work is being done, but there should be no sense of a “me” doing the work. There is only the One doer, and the One includes all the different beings doing their different jobs. That’s why one of the Divine Names is Elohim, which is a plural word, meaning “powers.” God is the Oneness of the many.
שַׁבַּ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן לַיי כׇּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה ב֛וֹ מְלָאכָ֖ה יוּמָֽת׃ – A Sabbath of Sabbaths to the Divine – all who work on it shall die… On the surface it seems to be saying that if a person does work on Shabbat they will die or be executed. But there is a different way to read the verse: not whoever does work on it, shall die, but rather, whoever does work, on it shall die. In other words, the “doer” of work during the week – the “I” that thinks it is the doer – should “die” on Shabbat. That is its gift and power – once you are able to “put yourself to death” as the “doer” on Shabbat, this also opens the possibility of dis-identifying with the “doer” on weekdays as well. Then all of life is Shabbat – that is liberation…
How do you do it?
Whenever you do anything, you can remind yourself: your strength is a gift. Your intelligence is a gift. Even the desire to do anything at all is a gift. It all comes from Beyond; everything comes into being through an infinite string of efforts from a vast עֲדַת adat – an assembly of countless beings…
וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כׇּל־עֲדַ֛ת – Moses assembled the whole assembly…
And yet, there is only one person who can command this awareness from you, and that is you! That’s the paradox – you must be like Moses, assembling the entire assembly of Being before your mind in each moment. This is ע ayin – seeing the deeper Reality; the One that both includes and transcends the Many.
May this week of Shabbat Vayak’hel-Pekudei be all Shabbat, so that Shabbat be a Shabbat Shabbaton. May we offer our “I” to the “Beloved” and know the One who is both the Doer and the Doing, both the One and the Many. May this realization move the world toward healing all the sufferings caused by the endlessly hungry “me.”
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How can I get free from thoughts and painful emotions through Jewish Meditation? Insights from Parshat Ki Tisa and Purim...
Parshah Summary – P’shat (literal level)
Before diving into the wisdom teachings on the right way to practice Jewish meditation to get free from disturbing thoughts and painful emotions, let's look briefly at the parshah on the literal level:
The parshah opens with Moses taking a census of the Children of Israel. Each person who is counted must contribute a makhazit hashekel – a half shekel of silver to the Sanctuary. Instructions are also given regarding the making of the Sanctuary’s water basin, anointing oil and incense. The “wise-hearted” artisans Betzalel and Aholiav are singled out as possessing hokhmat halev – “wisdom of the heart” – and are placed in charge of the Sanctuary’s construction.
Moses does not return when expected from Mount Sinai. The people lose faith, and make themselves a golden calf to worship. Hashem grows angry and proposes to destroy the errant nation, but Moses intercedes on their behalf. Moses descends from the mountain carrying the “tablets of the testimony” engraved with the Ten Commandments. But when he sees the people dancing about their idol, he breaks the tablets, and destroys the golden calf. He then pleads with God for forgiveness on their behalf: “If You will not forgive them, blot me out from the book that You have written.” Hashem forgives them, but says that the effect will be felt for many generations, and as they continue their journey, Hashem will not be with them; only an angel will accompany them. But, Moses again pleads with Hashem to continue to accompanying them on their journey to the promised land.
Moses prepares a new set of tablets himself (as opposed the first set which were inscribed by God). On the mountain, Moses is also granted a vision of the “Thirteen Attributes of Compassion.” When Moses returns, his face is so radiant that he must cover it with a veil, which he removes only to speak with Hashem and to teach Torah to the people…
Torah of Awakening
כִּ֣י תִשָּׂ֞א אֶת־רֹ֥אשׁ בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ לִפְקֻדֵיהֶם֒ וְנָ֨תְנ֜וּ אִ֣ישׁ כֹּ֧פֶר נַפְשׁ֛וֹ לַיהֹוָ֖ה בִּפְקֹ֣ד אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹא־יִהְיֶ֥ה בָהֶ֛ם נֶ֖גֶף בִּפְקֹ֥ד אֹתָֽם׃
When you take a census of the Children of Israel according to their numbers, each shall give an atonement for their soul to the Divine when they are counted, so that there will not be a plague among them when they are counted…
- Shemot (Exodus) 30:12, Parshat Ki Tisa
A young man came to the rabbi of Rizhyn with a question: “What can I do to break all of my distracting impulses that keep me in a state of restless anxiety and sorrow, so that I may have true inner peace?” The rabbi chuckled and his eyes twinkled: “You want to break your impulses? You will break your back and hip, but you will never break your impulses! Nevertheless, if you pray and learn and work in a spirit of service, your distracting impulses will vanish on their own.”
The Master’s response may seem contradictory: on one hand, we cannot get rid of distracting impulses through spiritual practice; but on the other hand, if we practice with the right intention, they will leave of their own accord. Isn’t that the same thing?
But that’s the point: we can get free of inner disturbance, but we cannot do it if our motivation involves trying to get something for ourselves; we must do it in a spirit of love – that is an essential ingredient for success, and is why we begin our practice of Integral Jewish Meditation with the first of the three portals, the portal of the heart: we offer attention to this moment as it is, as opposed to trying to “get something.” (Learn Integral Jewish meditation HERE.)
וְנָ֨תְנ֜וּ אִ֣ישׁ כֹּ֧פֶר נַפְשׁ֛וֹ – each shall give an atonement for their soul… This strange passage describes the necessity for giving a כֹּ֧פֶר kofer – an “atonement” or a “ransom” when being counted in the census. (Kofer is a different form of kippur, as in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.)
יִתְּנ֗וּ כׇּל־הָעֹבֵר֙ עַל־הַפְּקֻדִ֔ים מַחֲצִ֥ית הַשֶּׁ֖קֶל זֶ֣ה – This is what shall be given by all who pass through the counting: a half-shekel… The kofer the people offer is to be a kind of coin, a “half shekel,” which they need to give in order to prevent a plague from breaking out. But why do they have to atone for being counted to prevent a plague, as if being counted is some kind of sin?
כִּ֣י תִשָּׂ֞א אֶת־רֹ֥אשׁ – When you lift up the head (take a census)… The idiom that describes the census literally means, “When you lift up the head.” What is “lifting up the head?”
It is elevating consciousness – meaning, the disentanglement or dis-identification of consciousness with thought and feeling – all of that inner material that normally makes up the sense of “me,” or ego. The process of ki tisa – of transcending the ego and experiencing the freedom and spaciousness of pure consciousness is, of course, the aim of meditation.
Normally, when we decide to practice Jewish meditation, we are motivated by wanting to experience something like that – maybe we want less stress, maybe we want to stop feeling the burden of our problems, or whatever. And these are all totally valid motivations, but the problem is, they’re all rooted in that experience of “me” wanting to get “something.” But since the thing you’re trying to get is the letting go of the “me,” it doesn’t work! It turns your meditation into a kind of plague, because you’re chasing after something you can never get with that approach. The only way you can get it is by changing your approach – changing your motivation – don’t do it from that drive to get something. This is why the rabbi of Rizhyn instructed his disciple as he did.
The message is: approach practice as an act of giving – an act of love for its own sake – that’s the donation of the “half shekel.” It is only a half shekel because there is, of course, the acknowledgment that meditation is good for you – that’s the other “half of the coin” so to speak – but that which is good for you is also good for others. You have to put on your own oxygen mask before helping your children, otherwise you might not be able to help your children. So the donation of the makhazit hashekel, the half shekel, means that you are dedicating the spiritual work that you do on yourself toward the service of others.
Today, the practice of the makhazit hashekel is commemorated by giving three half coins (half dollar coins in the USA) to charity, on the day leading into Purim. The tradition of giving three coins comes from the fact that Parshat Ki Tisa, from which the idea of the makhazit hashekel comes, mentions the word terumah, “donation,” three times. This particular practice of giving to others in need is also reflected in the two of the four other mitzvot of Purim: Matanot La’evyonim – giving gifts to the poor, and Mishloach Manot – giving/sending gifts of food to friends.
The other two mitzvot of Purim are the seuda – the eating of a festive meal, and hearing the megillah, the Scroll of Esther, which tells the Purim story. These last two mitzvot (eating and hearing) are more of a “receiving” then a “giving,” forming a counterpoint to the first two. The festive meal is particularly in this spirit, and there is a tradition to become intoxicated with alcohol.
מִיחַיַּיב אִינִישׁ לְבַסּוֹמֵי בְּפוּרַיָּא עַד דְּלָא יָדַע בֵּין אָרוּר הָמָן לְבָרוּךְ מָרְדֳּכַי
Rava said: A person is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until they don’t know how to distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordecai”…
- B. Talmud, Megillah 7b
And yet, these practices of receiving, like all spiritual practices, should be done in a spirit of giving: eating and drinking for God, so to speak. In this way, loving service is disguised as gluttony; this is the paradox of Purim, pointing to the paradox of spirituality in general, and embodied in the popular practice of wearing masks and costumes for Purim celebrations. In the language of Kabbalah, this points to Hesed, Lovingkindness, being dressed in the garb of Yesod, joy.
It is important to note that there is disagreement in the tradition as to whether the intoxication of Purim should involve alcohol or not.While the Talmudic passage quoted above is a well-known proof text for justifying becoming drunk, the passage that comes immediately after is less known: It says that Rabba and Rabbi Zeira followed Rava’s advice and got drunk on Purim, which resulted in Rabba murdering Rabbi Zeira! When he became sober and realized what he had done, Rabba prayed and Rabbi Zeira was resurrected! The next year, Rabba suggested that they get drunk again on Purim, to which Rabbi Zeira replied, “Miracles do not happen each and every hour!”
Read past teachings on Parshat Ki Tisa HERE.
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What is the connection between relationship with the Divine and Jewish Meditation?
Torah Teachings on the Jewish Path of Presence by Reb Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks
Parshat Tetzaveh Summary – P’shat
Parshah Tetzaveh opens with the commandment (Tetzaveh) that the Children of Israel should bring pure olive oil to kindle the Ner Tamid – the “everlasting flame” of the Menorah, which Aaron is to kindle each day, “from evening till morning.”
The priestly garments, to be worn by the kohanim while serving in the Sanctuary, are then described: 1) the ketonet – linen tunic; 2) mikhnasayim – linen breeches; 3) the mitznefet or migba’at – linen turban; and 4) the avnet – a long sash wound above the waist. In addition, the Kohen Gadol (high priest) wore: 5) the efod—an apron-like garment made of blue, purple, and red-dyed wool, linen, and gold thread; 6) the hoshen—a breastplate containing twelve precious stones inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; 7) the me’il—a cloak of blue wool, with gold bells and decorative pomegranates on its hem; and 8) the tzitz—a golden plate worn on the forehead, bearing the inscription “Holy to Hashem.”
Parshat Tetzaveh also describes instructions for the seven-day initiation of Aaron and his four sons—Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar—into the priesthood, and for the making of the golden altar, on which the ketoret (incense) was burned…
Torah of Awakening
וְאַתָּ֞ה תְּצַוֶּ֣ה אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֨וּ אֵלֶ֜יךָ שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד׃
Tetzaveh – You shall command the Children of Israel to bring you oil of olives, crushed for lighting, for kindling lamps continuously…
- Shemot (Exodus) 27:20, Parshat Tetzaveh
When Reb Yaakov Yitzhak, the Seer of Lublin, was a young disciple of Reb Shmelke, his rebbe imposed a certain responsibility on him. Reb Shmelke told young Yaakov Yitzhak that he should help him never lose his deveikus – his inner connection to the Divine Presence in all things. He should watch his master especially during the activity of Talmudic debate, when the act of intellectual arguing could distract him from this awareness. If he noticed his master losing it, he should gently touch his gloves to remind him. Reb Yaakov Yitzhak reported that he never had to touch his master’s gloves even once.
Why would the master give his disciple such a task, if in fact he never needed his disciple’s help? Of course, it was to help his disciple remain mindful himself! By watching the deveikus of his rebbe, he was also able to remain awake. To be constantly present and live from the wellspring of wisdom that arises spontaneously from our own depths of awareness, we have to be tremendously selfish. It takes a heroic effort to continuously arouse Presence, moment by moment. But if we know that we are not doing it only for ourselves, and that being present helps us to better serve others, it becomes a duty. Just as a parent generally does not forget to go to work to make money to buy food for the children, so it is far easier to remember to be present when you know that it is your duty to others as well.
וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ צִּ֖יץ זָהָ֣ב טָה֑וֹר וּפִתַּחְתָּ֤ עָלָיו֙ פִּתּוּחֵ֣י חֹתָ֔ם קֹ֖דֶשׁ לַֽיי׃ – You shall make a frontlet of pure gold and engrave on it the seal inscription: “Holy to Hashem.” -28:36 The High Priest
The High Priest must wear a special head piece – a gold platelet which bore the Divine Name. וְהָיָ֤ה עַל־מִצְחוֹ֙ תָּמִ֔יד …and it shall be on his forehead always. -28:36 The Talmud (Tractate Yoma) comments on this verse: “…that he should never divert his attention from it.” In other words, he must remain constantly mindful of the Divine.
It is very clever that the symbol of the Divine, the engraved name, is on his forehead – so close to his eyes, yet impossible to see! That is exactly what Presence is like. You can’t see it because it is the seeing itself. The awareness looking through your eyes in this moment is the waking up of Existence through your body/mind. That awareness tends to fall into the dream of thinking, “I am this body-mind; I am so-and-so.” But in becoming aware of awareness, you can drop this sense of the limited “I.” The awareness is not “yours” really – it is God’s awareness, seeing through your eyes…
שֶׁ֣מֶן... לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד׃ עַל־הָעֵדֻ֗ת oil ... for kindling lamps continuously… upon the (tablets of) witness… The “oil,” the “lamps,” and the “witness” are all different aspects of consciousness: “Oil” is the simple fact of consciousness, that which we already are at the most fundamental level. “Kindling the lamp” means being aware on purpose – that is, becoming present. “Witness” is the basic activity of awareness as Presence: Receiving the fullness of What Is in the moment, without distortion or resistance. Through the “kindling of the lamps,” that is, the practice of Presence, these three aspects become one: consciousness becomes aware of itself as the witness.
The word for “witness” is עֵד ed. Ordinarily, we unconsciously assume ourselves to be a bundle of thoughts and feelings, inside our bodies looking out; we think of ourselves as the entity. But on the deepest level, we are simply the ed – we are the consciousness within which the experience of both the person and the world around us arises. This is the secret of the 1960s sitcom Mr. Ed theme song, which ends with the talking horse singing, “I am Mr. Ed!” It is true – the deepest “I” – our innermost identity – is the ed – the witnessing consciousness within which all perception, all experience, unfolds. To know this for ourselves, we need only become aware on purpose. How do we do that?
When you look at a painting, you are actually looking at a visual design of paint overlaid on a canvas. But when you look at the painting, how often are you aware of the canvas? You are looking right at it, but the mind doesn’t tend to focus on it. You see only the design. What happens when you remind yourself that you are also looking at the canvas? As your mind holds the awareness of the canvas in addition to the design, you may notice that it becomes still.
Now, try being aware of your awareness. We tend to look for God on the level of the painting; we want to find a better, more Godly picture. But all along, That which we seek is already inherent in the canvas. Meaning: become aware of your awareness, and the Divine Presence inherent in all things reveals Itself. Furthermore, Presence changes the “painting” as well – with practice, the shape of your thoughts and feelings will come to reflect your inner depth, changing your experience of life from the deepest level, rather than merely rearranging things on the surface. But how do we practice this constantly? How can Presence be more than fleeting?
Tetzaveh – command it! Just to have the intention is already to do it. We are already perceiving what we are perceiving. We don’t have to perceive something else; we need only perceive on purpose. This is the Path of ע Ayin, the practice of simply “seeing,” of being the Witness…
Read more teachings on Tetzaveh HERE.