There is a story that a well-respected woman once came to seek advice from Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt. But as soon as he saw her, his power of inner vision caused him to perceive that she had been cheating on her husband. He immediately lashed out at her:
“Adulteress! You sinned only a short time ago, and now you have the insolence to enter this holy place seeking my advice?”
The woman was taken aback, but then gathered herself together and spoke from the depths of her heart: “The Lord of the world has patience with the wicked, and is in no hurry to punish. God does not reveal their sins to anyone, so as to not prevent them from returning out of shame. But the rabbi of Apt sits there in his chair and cannot resist revealing what the Creator has kept hidden!”
From that time forward the rabbi of Apt would tell that story, saying, “There was only one time when a person got the best of me – and it was that woman.”
There is a danger in spiritual growth, in that as we transform and rise above the unconsciousness of our past, we tend to become more likely to judge others unfavorably. Transcendence of ego does not eliminate ego; we cannot “take our hands off the steering wheel” so to speak, but rather we must always be as vigilantly present to not get caught by reactivity. As Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz taught: “If you want to guide people in your house the right way, you must not express anger at them, for anger contaminates not only your own soul, but the souls of those with whom you are angry.”
At the same time, he also said, “I keep my anger in my pocket. When I need it, I take it out.”
There are times when expressing anger is actually the only thing that will work, because anything less won’t be taken seriously. The trick is to develop that sense of what is appropriate in the moment, and then to have enough consciousness to not be taken over by reactivity as it arises. The seeing of what is appropriate is the quality of the sefirah of Tiferet, while having the consciousness to effect self-restraint is ו vav.
The more we can work with these two wisdom-skills, the more conscious our words and actions can be, and the more the structures of our lives can then function to form a Mishkan, a “temple of Presence.”
בְּיוֹם־הַחֹ֥דֶשׁ הָרִאשׁ֖וֹן בְּאֶחָ֣ד לַחֹ֑דֶשׁ תָּקִ֕ים אֶת־מִשְׁכַּ֖ן אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד׃
On the first day of the first month, you shall raise up the Sanctuary, the Tent of Meeting.
בְּיוֹם־הַחֹ֥דֶשׁ הָרִאשׁ֖וֹן B’yom hakhodesh harishon – On the day of the first month…
The word for “on the day,” b’yom, can also be read bAyom, meaning “on today” – in other words, now.
The word for “month” is חֹ֥דֶשׁ khodesh, composed of the letters ח khet, ד dalet, and ש shin. Each of these letters is a Path of Presence, representing a particular quality:
Khet ח is the quality of being present with others as they are, not trying to change them, nor running away from them. In other words, ח khet is Patience.
Dalet ד , which means “door,” is the recognition that all we have and all we are is constantly given to us as a gift, coming to us through the “door” of being. In other words, ד dalet is the recognition of Grace.
Shin ש, which is associated with fire, is the quality of intense watchfulness, staying alert to perceive what one is being called to do in the moment, like Moses at the Burning Bush.
הָרִאשׁ֖וֹן HaRishon means “the first,” hinting that these are the first steps in building a Mishkan.
Seen this way, we could interpretively retranslate the verse thus:
In constructing a Sanctuary of Presence from your words and actions, the first steps are to approach whatever is present with Patience, to recognize that this moment comes to you as a form of Grace, and to be intensely Watchful to see what action is needed in the moment…
This approach to life is succinctly summed up in the aphorism:
הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אַל תְּהִי בָז לְכָל אָדָם, וְאַל תְּהִי מַפְלִיג לְכָל דָּבָר, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ אָדָם שֶׁאֵין לוֹ שָׁעָה וְאֵין לְךָ דָבָר שֶׁאֵין לוֹ מָקוֹם:
He (Ben Azzai) used to say: do not be scornful of any person, and do not be disdainful of anything, for there is no person without their hour, and there is no thing without its place.
Embracing the moment as it appears, rather than as we think it should be, saying “yes and” to the truth of what we are now meeting, is the path to accessing our inner intelligence to respond to the moment with wisdom and love. Even more, it is the path to recognizing that this inner intelligence flows from who we are at the deepest level – the vast ocean of consciousness within which the waves of thought and feeling rise and fall; this is the Path of ו Vav.
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Light as an Eagle – Parshat Pekudei
3/7/2019 0 Comments
“When I get the message that it’s time to let go, how do I get myself to listen?”
When we are powerless to change something we don’t like, we can understand intellectually that we need to “let go” because the resistance we feel is painful. And yet, it’s hard to “let go” because the impulse to resist has already taken over. What to do?
יְהוּדָה בֶן תֵּימָא אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי עַז כַּנָּמֵר, וְקַל כַּנֶּשֶׁר, וְרָץ כַּצְּבִי, וְגִבּוֹר כָּאֲרִי, לַעֲשׂוֹת רְצוֹן אָבִיךָ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמָיִם.
Yehudah ven Tabai says, “Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven…
– Pirkei Avot 5:20
הֱוֵי עַז כַּנָּמֵר – Be bold as a leopard
First, we must realize that we can get out of it; we must reject the belief that we can’t. So first of all, cultivate the awareness that there is no experience that can trap you; you are always bigger than any experience, because you are the field of awareness within which the experience is happening. This takes boldness – holy hutzpah as it’s sometimes called.
וְקַל כַּנֶּשֶׁר – light as an eagle
Being “bold” or “brazen” (az) doesn’t mean being aggressive, controlling or imposing. Simply be bold in knowing that you cannot be controlled by feelings of resistance. This means, don’t resist your resistance! Simply accept its presence, being the open space within which it arises. This is being kal – “light as an eagle.”
וְרָץ כַּצְּבִי – swift as a deer
But, to do any of this, you have to be faster than your impulses. Ordinarily, when an impulse is triggered, it happens very quickly and we tend to get taken over very quickly. Our awareness must be ratz – we must be even faster. This takes practice, and we may fail many times. But the key is to articulate your intention to yourself over and over, so that when the moment comes, you will be ready. This is the point of prayer – to articulate to ourselves our highest kavanah – our highest intention – every day, many times per day.
But then we must also practice carrying out the intention, and that’s meditation:
וְגִבּוֹר כָּאֲרִי – strong as a lion
Meditation is a workout for consciousness. Through daily practice, we become gibor – we strengthen our ability to consciously relate with whatever experience arises. Like any strengthening exercise, it can take time to bear fruit; that’s why it’s so important to have faith in the process and practice every day, even if you don’t notice much difference at first. The fruit will ripen!
There is a hint of this in the symbolism of the decorative fruits that were placed on the hems of the priestly robes:
וַֽיַּעֲשׂוּ֙ עַל־שׁוּלֵ֣י הַמְּעִ֔יל רִמּוֹנֵ֕י תְּכֵ֥לֶת וְאַרְגָּמָ֖ן וְתוֹלַ֣עַת שָׁנִ֑י מָשְׁזָֽר
And they made, on the hem of the robe, pomegranates of turquoise, purple, and crimson wool, twisted…
– Exodus 39:24
Turquoise, tekheilet, is the color of the tzitzit – the traditional ritual fringes that are worn to serve as a reminder to be constantly and vigilantly conscious – swift as a deer.
Purple is the color of royalty, representing our sovereignty over experience – bold as a leopard.
Crimson is the color of blood, the strength of the body – strong as a lion.
וַיַּעֲשׂ֥וּ פַעֲמֹנֵ֖י זָהָ֣ב טָה֑וֹר
And they made bells of pure gold…
The bell is a symbol of awareness itself, as the sound of the bell awakens us into a higher alertness. This is light as an eagle – just as the eagle hovers and soars through the open air, so too when we awaken to the full potential of who we are beyond our thoughts and feelings, we find that we are the open air, we are the miracle of consciousness, the effortless dwelling with just how this moment is unfolding, right now…
The Carver, The Weaver and The Embroiderer- Parshat Pekudei
This week’s reading recounts the building of the Sanctuary-
“Eleh p’kudei HaMishkan…
“These are the remembrances of the Sanctuary…” (Ex. 38:21)
Remember- right now- make yourself into a sanctuary!
How do you do that? It goes on to say:
“The Sanctuary of Witnessing…”
The moment you become the witness to what’s happening, seeing without judgment or resistance, your inner space becomes a Sanctuary of Presence.
The parsha then goes on to describe the builders and artisans, including one named Oholiav, who is described as a “carver, weaver and embroiderer.”
To become a Mishkan HaEidut, a Sanctuary of Witnessing, first let your inner space be “carved” by the content of this moment. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? Don’t resist, let your inner space take the form of this moment.
Then, let the fullness of everything in this moment be “woven” into a whole within the space of your awareness. Don’t tear the moment apart with judgments and resistance- it’s already one whole tapestry, when you allow it to be.
Let your own thoughts/words/actions “embroider” the sacred. Give your thoughts a form with a Divine Name or sacred phrase, letting it vibrate repeatedly in your mind.
Try this phrase, which means, “The Glory of the Divine Presence Fills”-
Kavod Hashem Malei! Kavod Hashem Malei!
This phrase is from the following verse which describes how the Sanctuary was so full of Presence, Moses could not enter-
“Moses could not enter the Sanctuary… for the Glory of the Divine Presence filled the Sanctuary.” (Ex. 40:35)
When your presence completely fills this moment, there's no more room for the separate “me”- there’s just the Presence, not separate from anything…
On this Shabbat Pekudei, the Sabbath of Remembrance, may we remember this most fundamental sacred task, clearing the way for joy and celebration in this new month of Adar II, the month of Purim...
Good Month to you!
Mishei Nikhnas Adar Marbim Simkha!
When the month of Adar enters, joy increases!