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Category Archive: Kaballah
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This is a great video showing what a difference one man can make, especially if he is an outsider. This is very inspiring:
I am reading a wonderful new biography about William Wilberforce, the great British anti-slave trade campaigner. As part of the book, the author, William Hague, describes the slave trade, how slaves were kidnapped and transported in the most brutal conditions with no regard to health or humanity.
One of the more disgusting stories describes how disease spread on one ship and many slaves died. The captain realizing that the trip was no longer profitable decided to throw the remaining slaves overboard to drown in order to collect insurance on them.
I thought to myself: how is that possible? How is it possible for one human being to do such a thing to another human being? This is not a new thought for me or other people for that matter. I’ve often wondered it when I read about slavery, the Holocaust, the Inquisition, genocide in Rwanda or events such as the Rape of Nanking. Unfortunately there are many, many examples of human atrocities.
But the thought that always gets me, is that beyond evil, how is it that a mass group of people who often believe in God and are decent people in their home setting to their families and friends can turn around and spear a baby with a bayonet or shoot a helpless old person. For any normal person to do this to another person is not natural. Then why has it happened so often throughout the history of mankind?
I believe that separation is the key. What do I mean by separation?
We feel separate from the other. We don’t look like them, we don’t act like them, and we don’t pray like them. They aren’t us. They are different. We are we and they are they. I believe this is where it starts. This is the very first step in dehumanizing or degrading someone into something. For example, I’m a Protestant and you are a Catholic, I must fight you, you aren’t me and not only are you different, you aren’t anything like me. Do Christians understand how weird and bizarre it is to Jews that Protestants and Catholics kill themselves over what seems like very small differences in beliefs? Do you think Jesus, if you believe he is God or God’s son, thinks it’s bizarre?
Just because something is different doesn’t mean it has to be separate. Your hand is different than your foot, the sky is different from land, or a trumpet is different from drums, yet they go together. There is a connection.
And this is the point I would like to make: we aren’t really separate at all. We may be different, but we are all connected by one big thing. And this thing is bigger than all of our petty differences: God. If God breathes life into us, creates us and endows us with a divine spark, then we are all connected by God. The problem is that if we don’t see that divine spark or recognize it in ourselves, then all we are is an ego mind with no real connection to each other or to God.
Until we can see that connectedness we will remain separate and will remain hostage to an inauthentic life, filled with petty differences and made up separations. We need to see, act and live the connection we have with each other.
If you were truly connected, you wouldn’t steal from yourself or kill yourself, would you? Because that is what the other person is, that person isn’t the other or separate, he is a part of you, he or she is connected to you. And the people that do hurt themselves and commit suicide do so because they feel separated or estranged from God, society, and more importantly their souls or divine sparks.
Imagine we are tiny cells or atoms that make up God’s body. If we don’t communicate to each other and help each other then how can the body function? Further, if we attack other cells, doesn’t that lead to disease? And wouldn’t a group of cells attacking other cells be considered cancer? In this analogy, is it possible that when we fight each other and kill based upon silly differences that we are killing or harming God? This is not to say that self-defense is wrong or that bad cells shouldn’t be fought, quite the contrary a body only works if its immune system is strong and works.
My request to you is to try to imagine every person you encounter as having the spark of God inside of them, even if it is hidden. Make that your very first reaction and go from there. So what if they are different. Don’t immediately make them separate, because separate starts the process of dehumanizing and devaluing that spark of God, something powerful you are connected to. At a minimum, you should start to see people in a different light. This is what has happened for me.
And maybe then you will start to see that people aren’t good or bad, but instead shades of gray and that a lot of “bad” people are instead people that are actually experiencing dysfunction and hurt, and are struggling to find God or their soul in their own life. And when you see someone less fortunate than you, maybe you will realize that it is your responsibility to help that other, connected person. Or simply help that person so you can strengthen your own connection with God, for yourself and for God.
In the Bible, when the Israelites finish building the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), they place the ark inside, in a place call the holy of holies. The ark is built with wood and inlaid with gold and inside holds the Ten Commandments. On the top were built two cherubim, or human/angel creatures facing each other from opposite ends.
In Exodus 25:22, God tells Moses he will be in the space above the ark and the Ten Commandments and between the two cherubim. One of the best commentaries I’ve ever heard taught that what God tells us he will reside in the space between two people as they face each other.
Stop separating yourself from other people. You have a connection to them and you don’t even realize it. Instead, imagine you are searching for or connected to God through other people. If more and more people believed this, then maybe atrocities and crimes against each other would slowdown or stop. Maybe people would realize they are really only hurting themselves and God.
Perfection is definitely not a Jewish thought or attribute. Consider the patriarchs of Judaism such as Noah who gets drunk, Jacob who steals his brother’s birthright by misleading his father Isaac, and even Moses, the greatest of all Jews, speaks with a lisp and disobeys God. And we could have a field day talking about King David. All of these people are examples of the far from perfect and flawed heroes that God talks, communicates and makes promises to in the Tanakh (Jewish bible).
Beyond individuals, the Jewish people as a whole are definitely not perfect. One immediately remembers the “Golden Calf” incident or other times when the Jews as a “stiff-necked people” disobeyed or did not listen to God. And yet isn’t it curious that despite not being perfect, we are still the Chosen people?
Why both on an individual and group level does God communicate and make a covenant with a people that is not perfect, but sometimes deeply flawed?
I believe the answer lies in the story of the wine steward and the baker who were in Pharaoh’s jail with Joseph (He was thrown in there for being falsely accused by Potifar’s wife. Genesis 39)
The baker was in there because the Pharaoh found a stone in a loaf of bread and the wine steward was in the dungeon because a fly was found in the wine glass of Pharaoh. The subsequent fates of the two are instructive, the wine steward is freed and is reinstated to his former position and the baker is put to death. Why?
The Rabbi of Ishbitz (Chassidic Rabbi around 1840 in Poland) teaches that the baker was aiming for perfection, and tried to keep all of the bad stuff that could come into the bread from getting in, while the wine steward knew there was only so much that he control and that once he poured the wine, a fly could fly into it and there was nothing he could do about it.
In this story is the proof text that perfection is not the goal of Judaism or God. The Ishbitzer Rebbe tells us that the experience of life is God, so therefore God is the fly in your wine cup. Perfection is not the goal of life, life is the goal of life and experiencing it with all of its ups and down is the experience of God.
The baker on the other hand is completely unprepared for when something bad happens. His goal is perfection, so what happens when a stone gets into a loaf of bread, the baker dies. To the wine steward the baker’s stone is like the fly, something that happens and is part of the experience of life. But to the baker, a fly in the wine cup is a stone, something that is unacceptable, a mark of imperfection and something to fight against. In the end, the wine steward triumphs and lives and the baker dies.
And this highlights why perfection is not a Jewish ideal. Without the mistakes and the problems, or the flies and stones in our lives, how would we ever learn, grow and evolve into deeper, more aware and stronger people? And this is what Judaism teaches us, that when bad stuff that happens, when flies land in our wine cup, they are part of life and a part of God. The sooner we learn to accept the slings and arrows of life and realize we will never be perfect, the stronger we will be and the better people we will become.
This isn’t to mean that you shouldn’t strive to be a good person or be the best of your abilities, but that instead you recognize that shit happens. A favorite country singer of mine, Pat Green, says it best:
Wouldn’t life be awfully boring,
If the good times were all that we had?
If there was a Jewish perfection it would rest on learning to appreciate the flies and stones in our lives along our brief but wonderful journey and to try as much as possible to use them to our advantage and to see the Godliness and holiness in them.
*This blog posting is heavily influenced and taught to me by Rabbi Avi Poupko from Pardes
I am currently in Jerusalem studying at a place called Pardes (Pardes link). I thought I would write an update as to why I’m here and what I’m studying. Here is one teaching I learned this week that I thought quite profound.
The Torah and Judaism is filled with contradictions and one of the best ways to study Torah is to study those contradictions and try to wrestle with the questions of life (remember that Israel in Hebrew means “wrestles with God”).
Consider this: God creates light on the first day, saying “let there be light.” But he doesn’t create the sun, moon and the stars until the fourth day. So what light did he create on the first day?
Hold that thought.
In the Jewish morning prayers (Shacharit), there is a prayer that thanks God for renewing the world and creating anew every day. Yet in Ecclesiastes, it says there is “nothing new under the sun.” So if there is nothing new under the sun, then how can God create new things every day?
And this is where my study begins by taking disparate, contradictory statements and exploring what each one means and what Rabbis for the past two thousand years have thought and said.
Rav Kook, the first Rabbi of British Palestine, wrote that the two statements are not contradictory because Ecclesiastes only refers to what happens under the sun. What does that mean?
And now we need to go back to my first statement about the light God created on the first day. There are many Rabbinic commentaries that teach that the first light was divine wisdom. My interpretation of Rav Kook’s comments are that when you use that divine wisdom for good and compassion you go back to Day One of creation. You become partners with God to create the world and renew things again, because you aren’t under the sun, the sun hasn’t been created yet. You are before the sun, greater than the sun and the light you bring forth in the world helps renew and create the world in which we live.
Now that is a powerful philosophy by which to live your life and this is why I’m studying in Jerusalem at Pardes.
I have a couple of thoughts about Jill Bolte Taylor’s video about the brain and her stroke experience.
The first thought is how interesting it is that the two hemispheres of the brain are completely separate. That the right brain lives in the present moment, thinks in pictures and learns through feeling. The right brain experiences life through an explosion of what this present moment feels, smells and looks like.
The left hemisphere thinks linearly and methodically. Its all about the past and the future. The left brain picks out details in the present and associates those details to the past and projects out into the future.
The left is a calculating intelligence that says, “I am” and “I am seperate.”
The right is emotive intelligence that is part of the whole world through the senses.
Could the left brain be our Yetser Hara, the evil/creative inclination? Could the right brain in a way be our soul? Its very interesting how this talk immediately conjured up thoughts of Kaballah for me.
Her last point in her talk was how important it was to focus more and more on the right brain. How do we do that? How do we cultivate our right brain and use it more in our lives? Meditation? Prayer? Music? Art?
Definitely worth thinking about…
Here is the video again: