There is a story that the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov once heard of a certain rabbi who was known as a great spiritual teacher. They wished to attend one of his teachings, and the Baal Shem gave them permission. Before they set out, they asked their master: “How shall we know if he is a true teacher or a fraud?”
“Ask him how to eliminate distracting thoughts,” replied the Baal Shem. “If he gives you advice, he is not a true teacher, for it is the task of every person until the hour of their death to do battle with the extraneous, and continuously returning attention to the true.”
There is a misconception that, in meditation, one should completely turn off the thinking mind. This is part of an even broader misconception, that the fruit of spiritual awakening is the elimination of sorrow and a permanent state of happiness and bliss. Actually, there are no permanent states – as the story says, “until the hour of their death…”
Asking how to achieve a permanent state would be like asking how to clean the kitchen in such a way that it never gets dirty again… or how to eat so as to never get hungry again. The task is not achieving a permanent state of cleanliness or fullness, but rather it is learning how to effectively clean and eat!
On the inner level, this means not stopping the mind, but shifting from involvement with thought to being the open space of consciousness within which thought comes and goes; it is the severing of one’s clinging to the thinking mind. This cutting away of attachment to thought is represented by the Seventeenth Path, the Hebrew letter ז zayin.
Zayin can mean “weapon” or “sword,” pointing to our ability to “cut” the inner “chains of bondage,” which is also the theme of Passover, the festival of liberation. The central ceremony of Passover, the ritual meal called the seder (meaning “order”) is based around the number four, hinting at four primary ways that we can sever the ties of inner bondage and get free from “Egypt,” from the constrictedness of Mitzrayim. We can see these archetypal fours reflected in the Four Questions:
מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?
Actually, the Four Questions are really one question, with four answers! Here is the first answer:
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִין חָמֵץ וּמַצָּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה – כֻּלּוֹ מַצָּה
Sheb’khol haleilot anu okhlin hameitz umatzah, halailah hazeh kulo matzah!
On all other nights we eat hameitz and matzah, but on this night, only matzah!
Matzah is the ritual food of Pesakh, the lekhem oni, the “Bread of Affliction.” But what is matzah on the symbolic level?
Ordinary bread rises through the action of the yeast; as the yeast ferments the bread, tiny bubbles of gas cause the dough to puff up. The dough pulls away from itself because of those tiny bubbles, and in a similar way, our consciousness also pulls away from itself when we engage in the process of thinking:
Everything in our experience, on all levels, happens within a singular, vast, field of consciousness. This field is the essence of who we are; it is our essence because it is the one thing that is essential to our existence. All experiences, all thoughts, all feelings come and go, but they come and go within the field of consciousness.
When we think about something, we create the illusion that there is something in our experience that is separate, something other than this consciousness; there is the sense of “me” thinking, on one hand, and the thing that “I” am “thinking about,” on the other. The thinking mind is like the rising dough, like hameitz; the “bubbles” of thought cause consciousness to “puff up,” and “pull away from itself,” creating a sense of separation, a sense of “me” and “that.”
Matzah, on the other hand, is simplicity; it is the cessation of involvement with thought, the coming into connection with the experience of this moment, a merging back into oneness. We can see a hint of this in the letters that make up the word matzah, which is מצה mem-tzaddie-hei.
Mem מ is mayim, water, which merges with whatever vessel contains it. Water does not “pull away” from the sides of the vessel, it simply takes the shape of the container. Mem means no resistance.
Free from resistance, the quality of tzaddie emerges. Tzaddie is the tzadik, the perfected person who is fully surrendered, fully trusting, accepting completely whatever happens as an expression of the Divine. With that sense of total Trust in What Is, one can breath deeply; this is the hei which makes the H sound, the sound of breathing.
In practice, we can work these three letters backwards – begin by bringing awareness into your breathing. As you become present, worry and anxiety begin to melt away, making space for Trust. In that Trust, there can be a releasing of resistance.
This matzah practice of coming out of the “Egypt” of excess thinking, corresponds to a different grouping of four in the seder – the “Four Children.” Particularly, freedom from excess thinking is the תָּם Tam, the “Simple Child.”
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִין שְׁאָר יְרָקוֹת – הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מָרוֹר
Sheb’khol haleilot anu okhlin sh’ar y’rakot, halailah hazeh maror!
On all other nights we eat many vegetables, but on this night, maror!
In our home, we use fresh horseradish as maror. While our family seders are not necessarily very meditative, the eating of the maror is the exception – it is a practice of simply being with the intense discomfort and burning sensation of the horseradish. In the deeper sense, the willingness to be with physical discomfort hints at the inner practice of letting go, of not needing to be seen in any particular way, not needing to uphold any status or image. Again, we can see this reflected in the letters:
Maror is מרור mem, reish, vav, reish. We looked already at mem. Reish ר hints at the word reisheet, which means “beginning.” This is having a “beginners mind,” not being an expert, but seeing things in a fresh and new way, without preconception.
Vav ו is the Hebrew prefix which means “and,” hinting at the practice of saying “yes and” to whatever arises, affirming rather than resisting the truth of experience in the present. The eating of the maror is an especially powerful opportunity to practice this.
The second reish is like the word rosh, “head.” It means the leader or head of something, such as a rosh yeshivah, a “head of school.” The shape of the rosh invokes the image of a bowed head, a sign of respect for the rosh. It is the acknowledgment that Reality is “above” us, of taking an attitude of respect and humility.
All this points to getting free from craving status, or self-image. This is the חָכָם Hakham, the “Wise Child,” because relinquishing the cravings of ego is a path of wisdom. Furthermore, חָכָם hakham comes from חָכמָה hokhmah, which means “wisdom,” but also means consciousness itself – the spacious field of awareness beyond all form, beyond ego.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אֵין אָנוּ מַטְבִּילִין אֲפִילוּ פַּעַם אֶחָת – הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה שְׁתֵּי פְעָמִים
Sheb’khol haleilot ayn anu matbilin afilu pa’am ekhat, halailah hazeh sh’tei p’amim! – On all other nights we do not dip even once, but on this night, twice!
This refers to the practices of dipping the karpas, the green vegetable, into salt water, as well as dipping the maror, the bitter herb, into haroset, a dish made from fruits and nuts, symbolizing the mortar of the bricks that our ancestors were forced to build with.
But on a deeper level, the dipping שְׁתֵּי פְעָמִים sh’tei p’amim, “two time,” hints at the practice of inquiry, or deep questioning.
Generally, we tend to assume what is true and what isn’t, without any deep thinking. But with inquiry, not only we do we really analyze the truth or untruth of things thoroughly, but we also analyze thought itself. The truth about Truth is that, while we can and must do our best to think deeply and understand things, our minds are not able to know anything with absolute certainty except the truth of what is arising in experience at this moment. When we recognize this obvious but illusive fact, we can see through and get free from our conditioning and beliefs. This is the רָשָׁע Rasha, the so-called “Wicked Child,” because those who question assumptions and norms are often considered to be “wicked.” But this is a channeling of that rebellious tendency toward one’s own ego – that is, toward identification and imprisonment in one’s own beliefs.
Finally, we come to the last of the four questions/answers:
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָנוּ אוֹכְלִין בֵּין יוֹשְׁבִין וּבֵין מְסֻבִּין – הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלָּנוּ מְסֻבִּין
Sheb’khol haleilot anu okhlin bein yoshvin uvein m’subin,
halailah hazeh kulanu m’subin! – On all other nights we eat sitting or reclining, but on this night, only reclining!
What is מְסֻבִּין m’subin, reclining, on the inner level?
When we sit, a small part of our bodies is in contact with the chair or ground that supports us. But with reclining, we bring far more of our bodies into connection with our support. We can see this reflected in the letters for m’subin, which are מְסֻבִּין – mem, samekh, bet, yod, nun.
Samekh ס actually means “support.” Its shape is the circle, hinting at our relationships with one another, and the support we give and receive in community.
Bet ב is bayit, which means “house,” hinting at the most basic expression of supporting one another, which is hospitality.
Yod י is the tiniest of letters and the starting point for drawing all the letters. In this way, it is another representation of simple awareness, which is the starting point of all experience, and freedom from excess thinking.
Nun נ begins the word noflim, which means “fallen ones,” hinting at the recipients of support – those who are in need of support from others. This is expressed in the opening kavanah of the seder: “Let all who are hungry come and eat!”
All of this brings us back to the straightforward meaning of reclining, which is simple enjoyment, dwelling like royalty as we drink and dine together. This is going out from the bondage of the heart – the joy of receiving and giving in the moment. This is the also שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל She’einu Yode’a Lish’ol – the “One Who Doesn’t Know How To Ask,” because where there is genuine enjoyment and love for one another, there are no more questions – just appreciation of that which is obviously and simply good, for its own sake…
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God Never Passes Over – Shabbat Pesakh
4/6/2020 0 Comments
Rabbi Raphael of Bershad, the most beloved disciple of Rabbi Pinkhas of Koretz, told of an encounter he had with his master: “Once I complained to my rebbe that in times of adversity it is very difficult to keep my faith in the Divine. It seems in such times that God is hiding His Face from us when we are unhappy. I asked him, “What I can do to strengthen my faith?”
My rebbe replied, “If someone is hiding from you, it only works if you are fooled into thinking the person has truly disappeared. But if you know that they are hiding, then the hiding ceases to be a hiding.”
The experience of inner freedom, like all experiences, waxes and wanes like the moon. But it only becomes truly hidden when we imagine that it is somewhere other than we are. This is the essential obstacle: the belief in God as something other than this.
There is a hint in this week’s special Torah reading for Pesakh (Exodus 33:12-23):
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶל־יְהוָ֗ה רְ֠אֵה אַתָּ֞ה אֹמֵ֤ר אֵלַי֙ הַ֚עַל אֶת־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה וְאַתָּה֙ לֹ֣א הֽוֹדַעְתַּ֔נִי אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־תִּשְׁלַ֖ח עִמִּ֑י וְאַתָּ֤ה אָמַ֙רְתָּ֙ יְדַעְתִּ֣יךָֽ בְשֵׁ֔ם וְגַם־מָצָ֥אתָ חֵ֖ן בְּעֵינָֽי׃
Moses said to the Divine, “Look! You said to me, ‘Lead this people forward,’ but You have not made known to me whom You will send with me. Furthermore, You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and also you have found grace in My eyes.’
וְעַתָּ֡ה אִם־נָא֩ מָצָ֨אתִי חֵ֜ן בְּעֵינֶ֗יךָ הוֹדִעֵ֤נִי נָא֙ אֶת־דְּרָכֶ֔ךָ וְאֵדָ֣עֲךָ֔ לְמַ֥עַן אֶמְצָא־חֵ֖ן בְּעֵינֶ֑יךָ וּרְאֵ֕ה כִּ֥י עַמְּךָ֖ הַגּ֥וֹי הַזֶּֽה׃
“Now, if I have truly found grace in your eyes, please let me know Your ways, that I may know You and continue find grace in Your eyes, and see that this nation is Your people.”
Moses is afraid that God won’t be present with them anymore, because of the incident with the golden calf. But God answers:
וַיֹּאמַ֑ר פָּנַ֥י יֵלֵ֖כוּ וַהֲנִחֹ֥תִי לָֽךְ׃
And (the Divine) said, “My Presence will go (along with you) and be restfulness for you.”
God is reassuring Moses that they should be at peace, because the Presence will always be with them. But Moses still doesn’t believe it:
וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֵלָ֑יו אִם־אֵ֤ין פָּנֶ֙יךָ֙ הֹלְכִ֔ים אַֽל־תַּעֲלֵ֖נוּ מִזֶּֽה׃
And he said to (the Divine), “If Your Presence doesn’t go (with us), don’t make us leave this place!
וּבַמֶּ֣ה יִוָּדַ֣ע אֵפ֗וֹא כִּֽי־מָצָ֨אתִי חֵ֤ן בְּעֵינֶ֙יךָ֙ אֲנִ֣י וְעַמֶּ֔ךָ הֲל֖וֹא בְּלֶכְתְּךָ֣ עִמָּ֑נוּ וְנִפְלֵ֙ינוּ֙ אֲנִ֣י וְעַמְּךָ֔ מִכָּ֨ל־הָעָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הָאֲדָמָֽה׃
“For how shall it be known that I have found favor in Your eyes – I and Your people –unless You go with us, and I and Your people be made distinct from every people on the face of the earth?”
God already told Moses that the Presence is always with them, but Moses seems to be caught in the belief that it can be otherwise; he’s afraid that he and the people he leads won’t be special anymore if God isn’t with them.
This is the psychology of the ego – the ego imagines that God can be present or not, and that if God is present, the ego will have a feeling of being special. We can substitute many other words for “God” – we might say peace, wisdom, ease, wholeness, enlightenment, or any number of things.
The point is, the anxiety of the ego comes from the belief that That which we seek is conditional, that it might leave us. That’s the true Mitzrayim, the true “bondage in Egypt” – the egoic belief that God is “elsewhere.”
But Moses isn’t convinced; he needs proof:
יֹּאמַ֑ר הַרְאֵ֥נִי נָ֖א אֶת־כְּבֹדֶֽךָ׃
He said, “Please show me Your Presence!”
וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אֲנִ֨י אַעֲבִ֤יר כָּל־טוּבִי֙ עַל־פָּנֶ֔יךָ וְקָרָ֧אתִֽי בְשֵׁ֛ם יְהוָ֖ה לְפָנֶ֑יךָ וְחַנֹּתִי֙ אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָחֹ֔ן וְרִחַמְתִּ֖י אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲרַחֵֽם׃
And (the Divine) said, “I will make all My Goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the Divine Name, and the Grace with which I Grace and the Compassion with which I am Compassionate.
וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹ֥א תוּכַ֖ל לִרְאֹ֣ת אֶת־פָּנָ֑י כִּ֛י לֹֽא־יִרְאַ֥נִי הָאָדָ֖ם וָחָֽי׃
And (the Divine) said, “You cannot see My Face, for no person can see My Face and live.”
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה הִנֵּ֥ה מָק֖וֹם אִתִּ֑י וְנִצַּבְתָּ֖ עַל־הַצּֽוּר׃
And the Divine said, “Behold the ‘Place’ with Me, and stand upon the rock.
וְהָיָה֙ בַּעֲבֹ֣ר כְּבֹדִ֔י וְשַׂמְתִּ֖יךָ בְּנִקְרַ֣ת הַצּ֑וּר וְשַׂכֹּתִ֥י כַפִּ֛י עָלֶ֖יךָ עַד־עָבְרִֽי׃
“And it will be as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by.
וַהֲסִרֹתִי֙ אֶת־כַּפִּ֔י וְרָאִ֖יתָ אֶת־אֲחֹרָ֑י וּפָנַ֖י לֹ֥א יֵרָאֽוּ׃
“Then I will remove My hand and you will see My back; but My Face must not be seen.”
In order for Moses to understand this Divine message, he must “stand upon the rock” – meaning, become still – be present. Then, he can see God’s “back” – meaning, he will see everything, all forms of existence, as manifestations of the same Divine Presence.
But why can’t we see “God’s Face” directly?
Because of the Divine is the ever-present Presence in all being, that means we are God’s Face; the eyeball cannot see itself; we cannot look at our own face.
Unless, of course, we look into a mirror; in this sense we can even see God’s Face as well, as when Jacob makes peace with his brother Esau, and says to him:
רָאִ֣יתִי פָנֶ֗יךָ כִּרְאֹ֛ת פְּנֵ֥י אֱלֹהִ֖ים – “Seeing your face is like seeing the Divine Face!”
When we are truly present with another person, when face meets face, then truly Face meets Face:
אֲבָל שְׁנַיִם שֶׁיּוֹשְׁבִין וְיֵשׁ בֵּינֵיהֶם דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, שְׁכִינָה שְׁרוּיָה בֵינֵיהֶם
But, when two sit together and there are words of the Torah between them, the Divine Presence dwells within them…
Don’t read it as conditional: “If there are words of Torah, then the Divine Presence dwells,” but rather, the “Words of Torah” are telling them: “The Divine Presence always dwells!”
פָּנַ֥י יֵלֵ֖כוּ וַהֲנִחֹ֥תִי לָֽךְ׃
My Presence always goes with you – rest in That
Four Stages of Liberation – Passover of Awakening
4/15/2019 0 Comments
Recently someone told me that he was angry at someone. And, not only was he angry, but he likes being angry; he had no desire to “let go” or “get over it.” Then, a few days later, another person told me almost the same thing about someone else, but with the addition: “I will never forgive.”
There’s an idea that the festivals contain certain transformational potentials, and that as we enter their seasons, the barriers that we need to transcend start coming to the surface. And certainly, anger and non-forgiveness are ways that we can get stuck in Mitzrayim, in narrow identification with feelings of woundedness, of being a victim.
But getting free doesn’t have to mean a denial or pushing away of our true feelings; rather, it is precisely our true feelings that are the means to liberation. They are the gravity of unconsciousness that forces us to either wake up or get pulled in. Without them, there can be no liberation; that’s the sacred role of Egypt and Pharaoh.
According to the structure of the Passover seder, this process of liberation has four basic stages, corresponding to the four cups of wine. The Jerusalem Talmud (10a) asks, “Why do we have four cups of wine? Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Benayah, this refers to the four stages of redemption.”
לָכֵ֞ן אֱמֹ֥ר לִבְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֘ל אֲנִ֣י יְהוָה֒ וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵעֲבֹדָתָ֑ם וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים׃ וְלָקַחְתִּ֨י אֶתְכֶ֥ם לִי֙ לְעָ֔ם וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָכֶ֖ם לֵֽאלֹהִ֑ים וִֽידַעְתֶּ֗ם כִּ֣י אֲנִ֤י יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹ֣הֵיכֶ֔ם הַמּוֹצִ֣יא אֶתְכֶ֔ם מִתַּ֖חַת סִבְל֥וֹת מִצְרָֽיִם׃
Therefore, say to the children of Israel: “I am Reality. I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will rescue you from their work. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through great judgments. I will take you to Me as a people, and I will be for you as a God. And you shall know that it is I, Existence Itself, your own Divinity, Who brought you out from under the burdens of Egypt…” (Exodus 6:6 – 7)
Hotzeiti – I will bring you out: There is a difference between the experience of liberation and the reality of liberation. Experience is always in motion; the degree to which we experience freedom changes from moment to moment. The reality of our freedom, on the other hand, is absolute; it is our task to recognize it and live it, regardless of our experience in the moment. The experience we’re having right now arises within our field of awareness; awareness is not trapped or compelled by it in any way. I am Reality – I will bring you out. The simple recognition of our own being as the vast and formless field of awareness within which this present experience is now unfolding brings us out from the illusion of being stuck, into the reality of our inherent freedom.
Hitzalti – I will rescue you: Once we recognize our freedom in the present, there is always the possibility that we will forget and again get drawn back into the dream of bondage. After all, the illusion is so formidable! The Egyptian army is behind us, the sea is in front of us – what shall we do? Our recognition must become commitment; we must remember to return ourselves to this recognition again and again in the face of the seductive and encroaching tides of experience.
Ga’alti – I will redeem you: When we come to the recognition of and commitment to our absolute freedom in the present, there can be a tendency to deny our past, which only creates a more subtle form of bondage. But when we embrace our past, when we recognize that ALL of our past experience, no matter how discordant or even evil, has brought us to this present moment of wakefulness, there can be redemption. There is no doubt – slavery and oppression are wrong. They are to be opposed. But, they are part of our sacred history, and through the telling, they have a sacred role. Gam zeh l’tovah – this too is for the good. This is not to whitewash or deny our pain; it is to embrace the supreme potential given to us by that pain.
Lakakhti – I will take you: It is true, there is nothing more vital for our own wellbeing then liberation. Anger and resentment can be sweet in a strange way, but they are nothing compared to freedom. And yet, it may take many years of bondage and many plagues to convince us that freedom is preferable. We cling to our bondage as if our life depended on it! And in a way, it does, because the price of freedom is our very identity; freedom changes who we think we are. At this stage, we give up fascination with our own story, with our own process, and meet the Divine at Sinai to answer Its call. Freedom is not merely for ourselves; it is the liberation of Reality Itself, waking up to Itself…
Re-Membering for Passover
What is spiritual bondage?
When the Torah describes the beginning of the Israelite’s bondage in Egypt, is says, “Vaya’avidu Mitzrayim et b’nai Yisrael b’farekh- Egypt enslaved the children of Israel with farekh- with crushing servitude.”
Now within this verse are three hints about the nature of spiritual bondage.
The first hint is in the word farekh, which means crushing labor. Now the root of farekh means to break apart or fracture, hence its usage to describe “crushing” labor. The obvious hint here is that spiritual bondage is unpleasant- it involves suffering. But on a deeper level, it hints that there is some kind of breaking or fracturing happening, and that’s the fracturing of Reality Itself as it appears in your consciousness.
Consider- in this moment, everything is as it is, and your consciousness is meeting whatever is appearing- your sensations, your feelings, your perception of what’s around you, whatever thoughts arise, and so on. As long as consciousness simply meets what is, there’s a wholeness to Everything. But when something unpleasant arises, whether external or internal it doesn’t matter, because all experience arises within the one space of consciousness, there’s a tendency for consciousness to contract into resistance, in the form of thoughts, feelings, or even words and actions- “dang farnet- what the??”- that’s resistance- that’s the farekh- the tearing apart of Reality, because now there’s me over here, resisting that over there, even if the “over there” is on my own mind.
This move from Wholeness to an opposing position implies a kind of contraction, because now rather than simply being the space of awareness within which all experience happens, you become a finite entity, resisting something within your experience. This brings us to the second hint in this verse, the word Mitzrayim. Mitzrayin means Egypt, but it comes from the root tzar which means “narrow,” probably because Egypt was built along the Nile. But metaphorically, it hints that to be in mitzrayim is to be in a narrow state; the native and full spaciousness of your consciousness gets contracted into a fixed point of view- the narrow “me” called “ego.”
And what’s the basic activity of ego? Ego tries to control things. That’s because ego feels disconnected from the fullness of its experience. That’s the basic hallmark of ego- that feeling of incompleteness, and with it, the need to change things in order to be okay. That egoic feeling of incompleteness comes from the contraction into a mitzrayim state that happens spontaneously in reaction to farekh- suffering that breaks apart the wholeness of your experience.
And this brings us to the third hint in the verse, vaya’avidu, which means “enslaved.” The arising of suffering, represented by farekh, which causes the contraction into the ego, represented by Mitzrayim is obviously not something we consciously choose; it seems to just happen to us. Vaya’avidu Mitzrayim et b’nai Yisrael- that contraction just seems to grab you and enslave you against your will.
And yet, on a deeper level, ya’avidu is related to the word Avodah, which means work or service not in the negative sense of slavery, but in the positive sense of prayer, or spiritual practice- which is an act of love and devotion. The hint here is that the experience of suffering and the spiritual bondage that comes from it has a purpose, and that is to be transformed into avodah, into a path of liberation. Because it’s only from experiencing and getting caught in all kinds of spiritual bondage, and then finding your way out of bondage, that you can really mature and evolve. A baby in the womb is already whole and one with all being, but it’s not liberated, because there’s no appreciation of the Wholeness. In order to know liberation, you have to first taste bondage.
The danger, of course, is that the experience of bondage, however that manifests for you, seduces you into a negative attitude and you become resigned to your stuck-ness. That’s why the Torah says, “l’maan tizkor et yom tzeitkha me’eretz mitzrayim kol y’mei khayiekha- that you remember your going out from Egypt all the days of your life.”
This verse, which also appears near the beginning of the seder, urges us to constantly remember that our basic nature is freedom, reminding ourselves every day, and even every night as the words of the seder say, “Kol y’mei khayiekha, l’havi haleilot- all the days of your life means, the nights also.”
And what’s the every day and night practice for remembering the going out of Egypt? It’s the chanting of the Sh’ma, because the Sh’ma reminds us, Hashem Eloheinu- Hashem- All existence- meaning everything that arises in your experience- is Eloheinu- your own inner divinity, meaning your awareness. Then it says, Hashem Ekhad- Existence, or Reality is One. Again and again you may get pulled into farekh- that involuntary suffering in which we contract into the egoic mitzrayim state, but if you remember ekhad- the oneness of Being, you can find your way back into harmony with what is through the verse that follows: ve’ahavtah et Hashem Elohekha- Love Hashem your Divinity, that’s the Hesed- the lovingkindness of offering your awareness as a gift to this moment just as it is, even if it feels like suffering, that’s the first part of meditation, b’khol l’vavkha uvkhol nafshekha uv’khol me’odekha- with all your heart and soul and might- that’s the Gevurah, the strength, of grounding and sustaining your awareness in your body- that’s the second part of meditation, and of course, Sh’ma Yisrael- Listen, be aware, and know yourself as the awareness- spacious, free and borderless- that’s the third part of meditation.
The Perfect Passover
4/20/2016 3 Comments
One Passo\ver, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev led the first night seder so perfectly, that every word and every ritual glowed with all the holiness of its mystical significance. In the dawn, after the celebration, Levi Yitzhak sat in his room, joyful and proud that he had performed such an perfect seder.
But all of a sudden, a Voice from above spoke to him: “More pleasing to me than your seder is that of Hayim the water-carrier.”
“Hayim the water-carrier?” wondered Levi Yitzhak, “Who’s that?”
He summoned all his disciples together, and asked if anyone had heard of Hayim the water-carrier. Nobody had. So, at the tzaddik’s bidding, some of the disciples set off in search of him.
They asked around for many hours before they were led to a poor neighborhood outside the city. There, they were shown a little house that was falling apart.
They knocked on the door. A woman came out and asked what they wanted. When they told her, she was amazed.
“Yes,” she said, “Hayim the water carrier is my husband, but he can’t go with you, because he drank a lot yesterday and he’s sleeping it off now. If you wake him, you’ll see he won’t even be able to move.”
“It’s the rabbi’s orders!” answered the disciples.
They barged in and shook him from his sleep. He only blinked at them and couldn’t understand what they wanted. Then he rolled over and tried to go on sleeping.
So they grabbed him, dragged him from his bed, and carried him on their shoulders to the tzaddik'shouse. There they sat him down, bewildered, before Levi Yitzhak. The rabbi leaned toward him and said-
“Reb Hayim, dear heart, what kavanah, what mystic intention was in your mind when you gathered the hameitz- the leavened foods- to burn in preparation for the seder?”
The water carrier looked at him dully, shook his head and replied, “Master, I just looked into every corner and gathered it together.”
The astonished tzaddik continued questioning him-
“And what yihudim- what holy unifications did you contemplate when you burned it?”
The man pondered, looked distressed, and said hesitatingly, “Master, I forgot to burn it, and now I remember- it’s all still lying on the shelf.”
When Rabbi Levi Yitzhak heard this, he grew more and more uncertain, but he continued asking- “And tell me Reb Hayim, how did you celebrate the seder?”
Then something seemed to quicken in his eyes and limbs, and he replied in humble tones-
“Rabbi, I shall tell you the truth. You see, I had always heard that it’s forbidden to drink brandy on all eight days of the festival, and so yesterday morning I drank enough to last me eight days. Then I got tired and fell asleep.
“When my wife woke me in the evening, she said, ‘why don’t you celebrate the seder like all the other Jews?’
“I said, ‘What do you want from me? I’m an ignorant man and my father was an ignorant man. I don’t know how to read, and I don’t know what to do, or what not to do.’
“My wife answered, ‘You must know some little song or something!’
“I thought for a moment, and then a melody and words came to me that I had heard as a child. I sang-
“Mah nishtana halaila hazeh mikol haleilot- Why is this night different from all other nights?
“I thought, 'why is this night different?'
“Then, something strange happened. It was as if I awoke from a dream, and everything was suddenly more real, more present. It was as if the night itself woke up all around me…
“Then I looked and saw the table before me, and the cloth gleamed like the sun, and on it were platters of matzot, eggs, and other dishes, with bottles of red wine. So we ate of the matzot and eggs and drank of the wine.
“I was overcome with joy. I lifted my cup to the heavens and said, 'Oh Hashem- I drink to you!'
“Then we sang and rejoiced in the nishtana- the specialness- of that moment… then I got tired and fell asleep.”
So my friends- before you fall asleep! Why is this moment different?
On this Shabbat Pesakh, the Sabbath of Passing, may we awaken to know that everything is passing, savoring the unique specialness of this moment. Let the unfolding of Reality become what it will, letting go of whatever it was, and breathing the intention of peace and love and awareness into every thought, every word, every act. Let’s go forth, again, out of mitzrayim- out of constriction- and into the mystery of the Presence as the present. This moment is truly different from all other moments, and always is…