Friday, May 25, 2012

Bamidbar - listening to the wild "is"

 Parshat Bamidbar 
Numbers 1:1 The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai…

God spoke to Moses “in the wilderness.” We can understand this to mean not that God and Moses were physically present in the wilderness, but that God used the wilderness itself to speak to Moses. We already know from Moses’ encounter with the burning bush that Moses was a very close observer of being-ness as he walked in the desert. This passage reinforces and extends the idea that insight is speaking to us from the very nature of the way things are.

Being in a wilderness is very different from being in a garden.  To create a garden, we work to shape nature to our own goals – food, or flowers or shade or a grassy place to sit.  In the wilderness, we abandon our human plans and give ourselves up to marveling at the awesomeness of creation. This passage teaches us that, rather than trying to shape our thoughts or emotions into some acceptable, pretty, and productive plan, we should simply pay close attention to the wild, spontaneous processes that move through our bodies and minds. Watching carefully and with loving acceptance, we may eventually discern the lessons that life is always teaching.

May we learn to be careful, quiet observers of the wild “is,” hearing in that wilderness whatever it is we need to learn.  

Friday, May 18, 2012



26:3 If you follow My laws and are careful to keep My commandments ...
26:6 I will grant peace in the land so that you will sleep without fear.

26:14 If you do not listen to Me, and do not keep all these commandments...
26:36 I will bring such insecurity upon those of you who survive in your enemies' land that the sound of a rustling leaf will make them flee from the sword.  They will fall with no one chasing them.

This parsha offers a stream of vivid images. The first set promise beauty, fulfillment, and peace; the second set threaten disasters as terrible as can be imagined. The Torah says that if we follow God’s laws, we will be secure and sleep soundly. If we do not listen, our anxiety will be so intense we will be in a state of perpetual post-traumatic stress disorder. I would much rather reflect on the positive promises, yet the negative images have a way of captivating attention. We want to follow the laws that produce peace. But how? What are they? As someone who does not accept all the rabbinic halacha as The RIGHT Way that can be followed without questioning, but instead inquires into the appropriateness of actions myself, it is not always clear just how to keep the commandments.

It may be useful to turn the language of this parsha around on itself. If I am beset by anxiety, then my actions may be out of alignment with holiness. If I am genuinely peaceful, then the actions that produced the peacefulness may be wholesome and aligned. This is a bit tricky, because we need to allow for the ordinary changing weather of emotions and reactions that constantly flow through us in reaction to internal and external events. Yet underneath the surface ups and downs of a day is something deeper – either a sense of safety and well-being that can support resilience even when events are difficult, or a sense of dread that the other shoe is about to drop. This deep inner sense may become a guide for discerning whether or not I am listening and keeping to the wholesome path.

 May we be guided to discern those actions that will promote safety, wholeness and peace for ourselves and for our communities.
"Parashah Meditations" article published in Kerem: Creative Explorations in Judaism, Issue #13, 5772/2012.  Todah Rabah to Gilah Langner for encouraging us to take our weekly musings and craft them into an article for Kerem.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Emor: Counting our words

Emor Lev. 23:10 –Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When you come into the land which I give to you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest unto the priest.

This verse can be understood metaphorically.  “When we enter the land” means when we enter into a sacred or holy space. Such time and space can be anywhere and everywhere, as Jacob realized 
when he awoke from his sleep (ma nora hamakom hazeh.)  Realizing we are in the midst of holiness, we are instructed to reap the harvest of that awareness by bringing a sheaf (omer).  The word “omer” can be understood as wise speech (omer, with an aleph, as aleph and ayin can be exchanged). Thus, the fruit of realizing that we are living in holiness - in connection -  is to bring careful priestly attention to our internal speech (our verbal thinking) and to our communications with others.  Speech can elevate, but it also can desecrate, as with the blasphemer at the end of the parsha. 

May we be blessed to make the time and space to allow our minds to settle so that we can become aware of (i.e. count) our intentions and use  speech (omer) that heals and transforms ourselves and the world.*

Thanks to Rabbi Jonathan Slater for inspiration: Torah Study for the Soul:Selections from No'am Elimelekh: 30 NE Emor.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kedoshim: Love your neighbor=love yourself

Kedoshim Lev. 19:18 "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In order for this instruction to be effective, we must love ourselves in a wholesome and accepting way.  If we subjected others to the same hypercritical, uncharitable thoughts that we sometimes think about ourselves, out neighbors would not think us fair or kind. If we treated ourselves with the compassion and kindness that we deserve, we ultimately will come to be kinder and more compassionate to others.

Try this blessing exercise as a way to cultivate a loving stance towards your self: Bring into your mind someone whom you trust has your best interests at heart. With the breath, imagine this person filled with peace.  As you breath in, you sense your “benefactor” filled with peace.  As you breath out, your benefactor exudes this quality. After a few breaths, imagine your benefactor filled with happiness, and then with loving-kindness. Shalom, simcha, chesed. When you establish a firm sense of these qualities washing through your benefactor, turn to yourself. On each breath in turn imagine yourself imbibing peace/shalom, happiness/simcha and loving kindness/chesed. You might want to say “May I be blessed with peace. May I be blessed with happiness. May I be blessed with loving-kindness.” Use at least one breath for each quality. End your meditation with the intention that greater peace, happiness and loving kindness flow throughout all creation – INCLUDING YOU