Sometimes I hear this question:
If you awaken spiritually, does that mean that you will remain awake all the time? Does awakening create a permanent state?
This question reminds me of the time before I was married, when I had a “girlfriend”. On one hand, we were in a committed relationship. On the other hand, we always had the choice to spend time together or not. At the end of the day, I was always free to go home to my own house if I wanted to. So, although there was a kind of commitment, it was nothing like the commitment I have now as a married person.
Does that mean “marriage” is a permanent state in which the relationship is constant and perfect? Of course not! Like all living things, it is in motion. It needs attention and nurturance. And yet, there is something that changes completely when two people decide to have one life together, to be one family.
Spiritual awakening is just like that. At first, you may have a spiritual experience. That experience tells you something about reality; it changes your whole outlook. However, like all experiences, it is temporary. When it fades and another experience happens, you can forget all about what you learned. You are not having the spiritual experience anymore, so you don’t have access to its truth. You may long for that experience, you may seek it out in different ways, you may even find it. You may find it in meditation, in music, in dance, whatever. But ultimately, it is a place you visit, not the place you live. It is your girl/boyfriend, not your life partner.
This week’s reading, Parshat Mishpatim, begins with laws regarding a male Hebrew indentured servant. It says that he can work for six years but must be set free in the seventh year.
The word for indentured servant is the same as the word for slave- eved. The master of the slave is called an adon- “lord”.
But these two words, eved and adon, also have a completely different connotation: God is sometimes called Adon, and a holy person is called an eved Hashem- a servant of God. The ultimate spiritual goal is to become an eved Hashem, meaning that your separate egoic self sense becomes subordinate to the Reality of the One. You no longer live for yourself, you live for God. In fact, “you” don’t really live at all; there is no separate “you”; there is just God.
Seen metaphorically, then, the Hebrew eved that goes free is like someone who has a spiritual experience, but when the experience is over, s/he goes free from it. It is temporary.
But then the text says that if the eved does not want to go free, he is brought to a doorpost, declares that he loves his adon and his new family, and that he wants remain an eved. His ear is then pierced against the doorpost and becomes a slave forever.
The metaphors are so rich! To awaken means that you commit to Reality as your Lord, your Master, your God. Reality also becomes like your family- your home base- the place you live, not the place you visit.
Does that mean that you are now a perfect servant? Does it mean that you now have a perfect marriage? Of course not! You can and must get better at it. There is risk- failure is possible. But you have stepped into marriage with the Beloved. All of the rituals of Judaism are really expressions of this basic commitment, this brit, this “covenant” with the Divine.
How do you take this step?
When it says the slave is taken to the doorpost, the word for doorpost is mezuzah- the same as the ritual scroll traditionally fastened to the doorposts of Jewish homes.
And what is the first word of the text written on the mezuzah? “Sh’ma”- “Hear”!
Hearing, unlike seeing and tasting, is the sense that we cannot shut down; our ears are always open. We cannot shut our ears to escape the sounds around us. Similarly, we cannot escape Reality. There is nothing but Reality, everywhere! To step into Reality, then, is actually the most simple thing. It means dropping the stories and being with what is. It means being an open ear.
The name of this week's reading, Mishpatim, means “judgments”. At the deepest level, there is only one spiritual judgment to ever make: commit or don’t commit. Hear or refuse to hear. Awaken from the dream of the mind-created self or live in the dream.
Are you ready to commit to Reality as It steps up to you in this moment? Are you ready to give up the false dream of freedom from Reality and embrace the true freedom-
-the freedom of your own inner stillness, one with life as it unfolds?