Aside from bringing forth our capacity for וַאֲהַבְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הַגֵּ֑ר ahavtem et ha’ger, for loving the stranger, (see last week's post) the het quality of patience with others is also helpful in a totally different way – for bringing forth ideas into manifestation, for getting things done.
A friend of mine once tried to help make a shiddukh – a “match” – for a woman who was looking to get married. He had a man in mind whom he thought was a good match, and was excited to have them meet. But when he told her about him, she asked to see a picture. He showed her the picture and she quickly snapped, “He’s not my type.”
My friend was instantly filled with anger, and he immediately wanted to do two things at once. First, he wanted to shake her and say, “Just talk to him! You are sabatoging yourself! You can’t tell anything from a picture!” Second, he wanted to say “the hell with it,” and give up.
These two impulses – the urge to force someone to change, on one hand, and to abandon the person, on the other, perfectly describe that which het comes to remedy. These two impulses, which we might call “fight or flight,” can be incredibly strong, but we are stronger.
We are stronger because we are always bigger than any impulse; we are the space of consciousness within which every impulse comes and goes. Knowing ourselves as this inner vastness can help us be like the eagle hovering over her eaglets, poised and balanced between extremes, “hovering” in the in-between.
There is a hint in the parshah:
אִשָּׁה֙ כִּ֣י תַזְרִ֔יעַ וְיָלְדָ֖ה זָכָ֑ר וְטָֽמְאָה֙ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֔ים כִּימֵ֛י נִדַּ֥ת דְּוֺתָ֖הּ תִּטְמָֽא׃
When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male, she shall be tamei – separate from the sacred – for seven days; she shall be tamei as in the days of niddah – separate from sexual intimacy.
The אִשָּׁה ishah, the “woman” is symbolic of Binah, the thinking mind, which “gives birth” to new thoughts and ideas. But in order for a thought to move from the level of mind into the physical world and come into manifestation, it often has to go through a process that takes time, often encountering various forms of resistance that must be navigated:
וְטָֽמְאָה֙ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֔ים V’tam’ah shivat yamim – she shall be tamei – separate from the sacred for seven days…
The “seven days” means the world of time – the process of manifestation that can sometimes be tedious or even infuriating, creating a sense of separateness that arises from our resistance. But then:
וּבַיּ֖וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֑י יִמּ֖וֹל בְּשַׂ֥ר עָרְלָתֽוֹ
On the eighth day, the flesh of his skin shall be circumcised.
The orlah, the “skin” that is “circumcised,” is the sense of separateness that can arise from the process “birthing” a thought into the world. But after experiencing the separateness inherent in thought and time, we can remove the barrier and enter the “eighth day” – that is, the sense of the Eternal inherent in the present moment.
How do we do that? The key is het:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם זוֹקֵף כְּפוּפִים
Blessed are You, Divine Source, who Straightens the Bent!
On the surface, this Morning Blessing is giving thanks for getting out of bed. But on the inner level, it is hinting at the power to “straighten up” our mind and heart. To accomplish this, we don’t need to make an overt effort; in simply bringing ourselves into awareness of whatever is present, letting go of excess thinking and staying with the moment, the mind and heart “straighten up” on their own.
This is the meaning of the blessing – that power to cease the urge to manipulate and cease the urge to run away, the power to neither lean in nor lean out, but simply sit in the presence of, comes to us as a gift when we offer the gift of our attention.
צַדִּיק כַּתָּמָר יִפְרָח כְּאֶרֶז בַּלְּבָנון יִשגֶּה – Tzaddik ka’tamar yifrakh, k’erez bal’vanon yisgeh – The righteous will flourish like a date palm; like a cedar in Lebanon they will grow…
Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Metzritch, taught on this verse that there are two kinds of tzaddikim, two kinds of spiritual people. The better kind is like a tamar, a date palm, which is yifrakh, flourishing. They flourish because they go out and interact with people, they are concerned with people, and and they bring things about in the world of time; they bring “heaven down to earth.” The lesser kind is only concerened with “heaven,” spending all their time with Torah and prayer. They are like an erez, a cedar – lofty, but ultimately unfruitful.
The Maggid’s words speak to a reality about “spiritual” people – we tend to be introverts; we tend toward solitude. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as it is balanced with life in the world with people. But people can sometimes be annoying and tedius to the introvert; how can an introvert practice the path of het?
וְלָקַ֣ח הַכֹּהֵן֮ מִדַּ֣ם הָאָשָׁם֒ וְנָתַן֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן עַל־תְּנ֛וּךְ אֹ֥זֶן הַמִּטַּהֵ֖ר הַיְמָנִ֑ית וְעַל־בֹּ֤הֶן יָדוֹ֙ הַיְמָנִ֔ית וְעַל־בֹּ֥הֶן רַגְל֖וֹ הַיְמָנִֽית׃
The priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the ridge of the right ear of the one who is being cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot…
This passage, which on the surface is talking about a purification ritual for one who has become tamei, “ritually unfit” to bring sacrificial offerings, contains a formula for purifying ourselves on the inner level so that we may practice the het quality of “presence with,” even if it goes totally against our personality, as in the case of the introvert.
The אֹזֶן ozen (ear) represents our seeking to understand others. When we feel annoyed by a person and resistance arises, our thinking can be easily taken over by narratives of judgment and blame. But we can counter this by adopting “beginner’s mind,” by staying open to new information, not crystalizing into a fixed point of view. This attitude of actively seeking more understanding is represented by the letter ע ayin which means “eye” – that is, not the eye that simply sees, but the eye that actively “seeks.”
This “seeking eye,” the ע ayin, requires the “ear,” the אֹזֶן ozen!
Ozen is א alef – ז zayin – ן nun.
The א alef is the quality of openness, of knowing yourself as the one consciousness within which the multiplicity of experience arises.
The ז zayin, on the other hand, is the sword; it represents cutting through the irrelevant and the useless. This is the opposite of alef, but alef and zayin need each other. You can’t discern what is relevant and what is not unless you are first open to whatever presents itself without predjudice; first we must be the alef, and only then can we weild the zayin. First we must be with a person or situation as they are in full acceptance, and only then can we continue through with our intentions, cutting through whatever barriers present themselves.
But of course, as we go through this process, there is ever the possibility of missteps, of failure, of getting taken over by reactivity anyway. That is why we need the נ nun. Nun is acknowledgement of our imperfection and of the impermanence of our successes; it is the recognition of our capacity to “return” – to do teshuvah. We may fall off the horse again and again; get up, get back on. This is נ nun, the “fish,” swimming in the waters of the formless, of the impermanent. Don’t drown, swim – just as the fish uses the water to propel itself, use whatever obsticles arise and continue on your path.
The בֹּהֶן bohen (thumb) represents our actions, since the thumb is our uniquely human tool for manipulating the world. This is about staying awake to the reality of choice, our freedom to choose and act. On the other side of “fight or flight” is an opposite force, the fear of being successful, the fear of completing things. To remedy this, we need to call forth the courage to choose and act, which is represented by the letter כ kaf, meaning “palm of hand,” the place of action.
The “palm” of action, the kaf, requires the “thumb,” the בֹּהֶן bohen!
Bohen is ב bet – ה hei – ן nun.
The ב bet is embodiment, as bet means “house.” This is the attitude of welcoming our intention into a new form, not being afraid of “finishing” projects; it is the willingness to come to the end of something, to come to completion, to become.
The letter ה hei is honoring the expression of our individual uniqueness. There is no end to what needs to be done in the world. As individuals, we are limited, but we also have something unique to contribute.
Finally, the רַגְלוֹ בֹּהֶן bohen raglav, the “thumb of the foot” (big toe) represents our sensory awareness, since our feet connect with the earth, “grounding” us in the world of the senses. This is present moment awareness plain and simple, represented by י yod, which means “hand” – the place of both the “palm” and the “thumb,” the place of action. Yod is also the smallest of letters, a simple point, representing simple awareness connecting with the senses – presence in action.
The simple awareness of י yod requires the רֶגֶל regel, the foot!
Regel is ר reish – ג gimel – ל lamed.
The ר reish is awe. Rosh means “head,” and the shape of reish is the bowed head, recognizing That which transcends the mind, which is Reality Itself; it is the recognition that this moment is a miracle.
The ג gimel is completeness – like the gamal, the “camel” that carries all it needs within its hump as it traverses the desert, so too we have all we need on the deepest level of our being, the silent field of awareness that is always already Whole.
But this completeness on the level of consciousness does not mean we are complete on the level of form. Rather, we are ever incomplete, and so we have the ל lamed, which means “learn.” Lamed represents the willingness to ever be a student, to open ourselves to receiving whatever the moment is coming to teach.
Through all of these qualities – א Openness, ז Discernment, נ Return,ב Embodiment, ה Unique Expression, ר Awe, ג Wholeness and ל Learning – we can overcome boredom, tedium, restlessness, and any other barriers to the path of ח het, to being rooted in patience and staying with whatever process is just now unfolding…
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Truth of the Heart – Parshat Metzorah
4/8/2019 0 Comments
מִֽי־יִ֝שְׁכֹּ֗ן בְּהַ֣ר קָדְשֶֽׁךָ׃
Who can dwell on Your holy mountain?
This verse from Psalm 16 is one form of the ultimate spiritual question: The root for “dwell” is the same as Sh’khinah – Divine Presence. The “holy mountain” hints at transcendence – like when you stand on top of a mountain and see civilization down below. Or, when you see the earth from outer space – there’s a sense of freedom from the chaos and turmoil you might sense in the middle of traffic, for example. But the paradox is that even in the midst of the chaos, there can be an experience of transcendence, of “looking down from the mountaintop,” when you learn how to “dwell” – that is, to be present with the fulness of whatever is arising in your field of experience.
But how do you do that? The psalm answers:
הוֹלֵ֣ךְ תָּ֭מִים וּפֹעֵ֥ל צֶ֑דֶק וְדֹבֵ֥ר אֱ֝מֶ֗ת בִּלְבָבֽוֹ׃
One who walks with simplicity, who does what is right, and speaks Truth in one’s heart…
Holekh tamim – walks with simplicity – meaning, let your awareness rest in your movements. Rather than the ordinary way, which is to do one thing while thinking about all sorts of other things, be simple – connect with the simplicity of your movement in the present – the flow of your breathing, and whatever you happen to be doing. Then, in that deep Presence with the fullness of the moment, it’s not so difficult to see how to be fo’el tzedek – to do what is right.
Why? Because, paradoxically, there’s humility in being present. You feel elevated, like being on the mountaintop, but you surrender the idea of “knowing” things, of “being right.” That’s the simplicity – simply knowing what you really know, not what you think you know. That’s dover emet bilvavo – speaking Truth in your heart. It’s the opposite of judging other people, of making up stories in your head. Like Hillel says in Pirkei Avot:
וְאַל תָּדִין אֶת חֲבֵרְךָ עַד שֶׁתַּגִּיעַ לִמְקוֹמוֹ
Do not judge a person until you reach their place… (2:5)
There’s a story that Reb Zushia was once with his master, Rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch, when a man came into the room and started aggressively nagging the Maggid for a blessing on his business. Now Reb Zushia had special powers, and could perceive all the past deeds of a person simply by looking at them. When he looked at this man begging for a blessing, he could see this guy had done many awful things. In an instant, Reb Zushia lost his temper and snapped at the man: “How dare you ask the great Maggid to help you with your business? You should be asking him how you can atone for the things you’ve done!”
The man turned red with embarrassment and left in a hurry. Reb Zushia suddenly realized what he had done, that he had shamed this man, and he didn’t know what to do. The Maggid placed his hands upon Reb Zushia and gave him a blessing that from that point onward, he should only see the good in other people. But, since the Maggid didn’t have the power to take away Zushia’s ability to perceive one’s past deeds, from that point onward Zushia perceived the sins of others within himself.
When we feel deeply triggered by another person’s perceived faults, it is usually because the same fault exists or used to exist within ourselves. I know that’s true with my children – oy I wish they wouldn’t do what I used to do! But that is dover emet bilvavo – speaking Truth in your heart. It is recognizing the Whole Truth – that what we perceive “out there” is always also “in here.” There is one Reality, unfolding now.
In Parshat Metzorah, there’s a hint on how to connect with the Whole Truth – that is, the truth of the wholeness of this moment – in the description of how a person becomes whole again (tahor) after being infected with the skin disease tzara’at: (Lev. 14:14)
וְלָקַ֣ח הַכֹּהֵן֮ מִדַּ֣ם הָאָשָׁם֒ וְנָתַן֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן עַל־תְּנ֛וּךְ אֹ֥זֶן הַמִּטַּהֵ֖ר הַיְמָנִ֑ית וְעַל־בֹּ֤הֶן יָדוֹ֙ הַיְמָנִ֔ית וְעַל־בֹּ֥הֶן רַגְל֖וֹ הַיְמָנִֽית׃
The priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the ridge of the right ear of him who is being cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. (Lev. 14:14)
The ozen (ear) represents our mental understanding of what’s going on, since it is through the ear that we hear language. Our thinking is easily taken over by ego, which unconsciously creates narratives of judgment and blame. But when we become conscious of our thoughts, we can recognize: “this is only a thought – it may or may not be true” – then we can stay free from the seductive power of ego.
The bohen (thumb) represents our actions, since the thumb is the tool for manipulating the world that’s unique to humans. Once we become free from the unconscious motivations of ego by observing our own thoughts, we can consciously choose our actions so as to embody this awareness.
The bohen of the foot, the “big toe” represents our sensory awareness, since our feet connect with the earth, “grounding” us in the world of the senses. By putting our attention into our sensory awareness – into our breathing, our sensations, sounds and sights – we can greatly reduce the seductive power of thought and emotion, and thereby stay rooted in dover emet bilvavo – speaking Truth in the heart...
Something is in the House- Parshat Metzorah
4/13/2016 0 Comments
A couple sits anxiously in the therapist’s office, unsure how to begin talking about their problems at home. “Why don’t you start,” says the therapist to the woman.
“My husband is a jerk!” she blurts.
“Please’” says the therapist, “Only ‘I’ statements. Don’t tell me about him, tell me what’s going on with you. You can start by saying, ‘I feel…’”
“Okay,” says the wife, “I feel like he is a jerk!”
Differentiating between your actual feelings in the present moment and your impulse to accuse, judge, or blame, is no easy matter when your emotions are inflamed.
But making this differentiation is crucial.
There’s a world of difference between “I feel like he is a jerk,” on one hand, and “When he comes home late, I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach...” on the other.
The first one is an attack- it’s accusatory. The second one is truthful… and vulnerable, exposing the actual experience of what happens when he comes home late.
And of course, if you’re feeling punched in the stomach, the last thing you want is to be vulnerable. You want to attack back, accuse, blame. But ultimately, it’s a self-defeating impulse. Your negative words create an effect, and the ripples of that effect continue on in time.
There’s a Jewish proverb of unknown origin-
“A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will never return.”
This week’s reading also involves setting a bird free.
It begins describing the ceremonial purification of a person afflicted with tzara’at- a skin disease that afflicted those who had committed negative speech.
“Zot tiyhyeh torat ham’tzora b’yom taharato-
“This is the law of the afflicted one on the day of purification…”
The ceremony uses two birds, a piece of cedar wood, a crimson thread, and some hyssop.
One bird is slaughtered into an earthenware vessel filled with “living waters.” The live bird is then held together with the cedar wood, the crimson thread and hyssop, and dipped into the bloody water. The bloody water is then sprinkled on the afflicted person seven times, and the live bird is set free into an open field.
What does this mean?
Medieval commentator Rabbeinu Ephraim explains the symbolism of this ritual in transformational terms:
The first bird represents negative speech- gossip, slander and so on. This “bird” must be “slaughtered” into an “earthenware vessel.” The vessel represents the “home” of our bodies- fragile, temporary, of the earth. By contemplating the temporary nature your bodily home, you free yourself from arrogance and allow the impulse toward negative speech to be “slaughtered.”
The “living waters” represent Truth, which fills the humble “earthen vessel,” once the arrogance is gone.
The bird that’s set free represents the disease- just as the bird flies away, so should the disease depart. But, just as the bird might return, so too can the affliction return if you allow yourself to fall back into your patterns of negative speech.
Why is it so easy to fall back into negative speech? Why is it so hard to stay present with what you’re actually experiencing, and be nourished by the “living waters” of the vulnerable truth?
Because the truth can be painful and ego crushing.
And yet, if you constantly project blame and judgment, without fully being with the truth of what you’re experiencing, healing cannot happen. You become the disease- a disease of living on the surface, holding back from your own inner depths, out of fear that your depths are too painful. That’s why tza’arat is a skin disease.
It reminds me of the times my family would return to our house after a few weeks of being away. All the windows and doors would have been shut, and there would be a kind of unpleasant smell from the stagnant air, until we opened the windows and doors and let the air flow.
That’s what it’s like- your inner world is like a shut up house, festering.
But open the doors and windows- speak the truth, and healing begins! As it says in Psalm 30:
“Shivati elekha vatirpa’eini-
“I cried out to You and you healed me…”
This is the true potential of prayer and meditation- to give yourself the space to go into your depths every day, feel whatever needs to be felt there in meditation, express what needs to be expressed in prayer, and tap the renewing and healing power of the Presence that is ever-present. The "living waters" will fill the “home” of your body and renew your spirit.
There’s a story of Reb Mordechai of Pintchov, that his poverty was so extreme, he could barely support his household at all. His wife would nag him incessantly to tell their woeful situation to his rebbe, the Seer of Lublin.
Time after time he would travel to Lublin, but never once did he mention his troubles to the rebbe, because on arriving there he would forget them completely.
Being a practical woman, his wife decided to say nothing more, but to make the journey there by a separate wagon immediately after he had left home. When Reb Mordechai arrived at Lublin, he was confronted by the fact of his wife’s presence. There was no way out- and he told the rebbe all about their state of affairs at home.
“Why did you never mention this until now?” asked the Seer.
“Rebbe,” answered the hasid, “I assumed that my situation would be known to you through Ruakh Hakodesh (Divine inspiration), through the holy spirit that rests upon you.”
“Not so,” answered the rebbe. “It’s true, the Torah says- ‘A person whose skin has the plague of tza’arat shall be brought to Aaron the priest, and the priest shall see the plague.’
“That is to say: As soon the ailing person is brought before the priest, the priest will be able to see the the malady for himself, without being told.
“But, in the case of plagues that affect houses, the Torah teaches otherwise: ‘And the house owner shall come and tell the priest, saying: ‘Something like a plague seems to be in the house!’
“From this we see that for plagues affecting houses, one should come before the ‘priest’ and tellhim about it!”
On this Shabbat Metzorah- the Sabbath of Affliction- may we fully feel and truthfully express our inner afflictions- not with judgment and blame, but as prayers of healing; may we not shrink from the "bitter herbs!" And just as our ancestors tasted the bitterness of slavery before their liberation from narrowness into the Presence, so may it be for us.