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Ascend- Parshat Behar- On the Mountain
"When you come into the land that I give to you, the land will rest a Shabbat for the Divine..."
The Torah reading Parshat Behar opens by talking about Shabbat not as a day of rest for people, but as a rest for the land. It says:
Ki tavo’u el ha’aretz asher ani notein lakhem, v’shavta ha’aretz Shabbat laShem- When you come into the land that I give to you, the land will rest a Shabbat for the Divine.
It then goes on to explain what it means for the land to rest:
"Sheish shanim tizra sadekha v’sheish shanim tizmor karmekha v’asafta t’vuatah-
"Six years your will plant your field, prune your vineyard and gather in your produce.
"Uvashana hashvi’it Shabbat shabbaton yiyeh la’aretz-
But the seventh year should be a Sabbath of Sabbaths for the land… don’t plant your field or prune your vineyard..."
Now the Torah doesn’t talk much about vegetables. When it refers to planting fields, it’s mostly talking about grain, and from the grain is made the ancient staple, bread. Pruning vineyards is a reference of course to grapes that are made into wine. Now wine and bread are not only basic foods, they’re also sacramental foods- forming the ritual part of sacred meals on Shabbat and festivals. In fact, the first mention of this is in Bereishit 14:18 when Makitzedek, the priest-king of Shalem, blesses Avraham and brings him bread and wine.
I heard once from a friend a special teaching that he heard from Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach of blessed memory. He pointed out that wine is something that gets better and better with age. You pay more for wine depending on how old it is. Bread, on the other hand, has to be fresh. No one wants a fifty year-old loaf of bread.
Similarly, there’s an aspect of the spiritual path that’s ancient and an aspect that’s fresh and new. For example, the Torah, and really the whole Jewish tradition, is ancient and there’s a special richness in that. And even though there are plenty of passages in the Torah that may seem wrong and even disturbing, that’s offset in a sense by the richness of being connected to a lineage that’s many thousands of years old. And yet, that richness doesn’t really come to life unless it’s combined with fresh, new insights and interpretations. No one wants to hear the same old canonized interpretations over and over again. For the tradition to really live, it also has to be like bread- we need khidushim-new insights.
On a deeper level, the very practice of Presence also contains these two aspects. On one hand, there is nothing more ancient than the present moment. There’s nothing that’s ever existed that didn’t exist in the space of its own present. That’s why one of the names of God is Atik Yomin- the Ancient of Days. And when you become fully present to the ancient space of this moment, there’s an intoxication, as you drink in the wine of the Being.
At the same time, in becoming present to That which is most ancient, there’s also a spontaneous letting go of mental and emotional baggage from the past so that everything in your experience becomes alive and new like a freshly baked challah.
So on this Shabbat B’Har and B’khukotai- the Sabbath of the Mountain and the Decree- may continue to ascend the mountain of transcendence and freedom through both the wine of tradition and the bread of immediacy, bringing that transcendence into the flow of actual life, doing our part to fulfill the decree of tikum olam- transforming this world into a celebration of creation and an expression of love.
The Lonely Drive- Parshat Behar
If you could choose exactly how much time to waste every day, how much would it be? Would you waste two hours per day? One hour per day? Or would you be conservative- maybe only waste twenty minutes? Five minutes?
And furthermore, what does it mean to “waste time” anyway?
Is watching a movie wasting time? What about sitting around enjoying a cup of tea? Taking a walk for no particular reason?
Or, is “wasting time” about doing something that creates the exact opposite of what you want?
If enjoyment is what you want, maybe watching a movie is a good use of time, as long as it’s not in excess. If peace is what you want, maybe sipping tea and taking walks are a great way to spend time.
And, if you want to be miserable, maybe complaining and judging and gossiping and putting yourself and others down are just what the doctor ordered.
But who wants to be miserable?
And yet, many spend time complaining and judging and gossiping and putting self and others down. When was the last time you did one of those things?
There’s really only one reason you would do something that creates the opposite result of what you want, and that’s not being conscious of what you are doing. Consciousness is the key.
You want health, but an impulse arises to eat that unhealthy food. The impulse is bothering you, and you unconsciously assume that fulfilling the impulse will make you feel better and bring you peace. The problem is, fulfilling the impulse only gives you a temporary experience of relief, and you still haven’t come closer to the real peace you are seeking... plus you are working against your health.
The real peace you seek can only come from getting to know who you are beneath all the impulses. It comes from knowing that underneath all your restless energies, there is an awareness that knows the restlessness.
That awareness is peace. Shift your home from the restlessness to that awareness, and peace is yours, because you rise above all the stories about how you need this or that to have peace. But to do that, you need to be willing to let go of the company of your own thoughts, and be truly alone.
This week’s reading begins-
“Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe b’har Sinai-
"Hashem spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai…”
After driving my son to school in the morning, I used to return home along Skyline up in the Oakland hills, from which I can catch a glimpse of the entire East Bay and San Francisco. Seeing these cities from above is an entirely different experience from being down in them. There is a sense of peace, of wonder, of floating above the seething urban chaos.
It’s the same spiritually. To hear the Voice of the Divine, you have to take some time to tune out the voices of the mundane- that is, the voices of your own mind. Sinai is totally within you and available, once the movement of the mind subsides. And from Sinai comes the “Voice of the Divine”- meaning, the inner wisdom of how to live- to live without wasting time.
A still mind is not a waste of time, it is the end of time.
As the end of time, it's also the fulfillment of time. Fulfillment is completely available to you, right now, to the degree that you can open to your inner Sinai.
The reading goes on to say-
“Ki tavo el ha’arets… v’shavtah ha’arets Shabbat LaShem…
"When you come into the land… the land itself shall rest a Shabbat…”
The “land” is life itself- messy, chaotic, beautiful life itself. But, when you stop wasting time, guess what- life doesn’t take so much energy! Life itself becomes a “Shabbat”- simple, clear, straightforward.
Do you want simplicity? Do you want clarity? Do you want peace? Do you want a life that is wholly Shabbat?
Make a commitment now:
“I will let go of all excess thought, moment by moment. I will refrain from creating negative narratives and stand alone in the Presence of God, without the noise of the mind.”
Can you make this commitment?
The Baal Shem Tov told:
"Once I dreamed that I traveled to Gan Eden- the Garden of Eden- and many people went with me, chattering excitedly. But the closer I came to the Garden, the more of them disappeared, and the more quiet it became.
"When I finally entered Paradise, there were only a few of them left, speaking softly, with few words. But when I stood beside the Tree of Life, I looked around- and I seemed to be alone."
On this Shabbat Behar, The Sabbath on the Mountain, may have the courage to walk the road of true aloneness- aloneness not in the sense of being without others, but in the sense of allowing the mind to stand alone, without the constant and relentless company of thought. May we be renewed in peace and clarity-