Thursday, January 28, 2016

Parashat Yitro: Anokhi

There is a saying among the classical rabbis that God actually gave us God’s own self when He gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Ana Nafshi Ketavit Yehavit. Literally: “ I My self have written and given.” In other words: I have written My own self, My essence, down into words and that is what I am giving you here in the Torah. I have given you the gift of Me.

The rabbis derive this saying by reading the first word of the 10 Commandments, the word Anokhi (“I"), as a notorikon, a word which stands for other words, with each of its letters representing the first letter of a different word, together forming the sentence: Ana Nafshi Ketavit Yehavit. “I myself have written and given. “ In a way, this is a simple “spelling” out of what the word anokhi literally means – “I” – God put His “I” into the Torah.

At the parsha level, this reading makes sense of what is going on – what we have here is not just an ordinary passing on of laws. That could have been done by a simple public reading of the law – by Moshe, or better yet, by local hired professional readers and explicators of law. What we have here is not just a receiving of law, but a receiving of God Himself. The point seems obvious, but so obvious that we might miss it --- This giving of the 10 Commandments is a REVELATION of God. With all its preparations and with all its thunder and lightning, it is a live experience of God in the world.

So it was. And so it is. The Torah is today our live experience of God in the world. The gift of Torah is the gift of God Himself. He wrote Himself down and gave Himself to us. These precious words are our entry point, no, more than our entry point, they are in some way God Himself in the form of words.

The study of Torah brings continual revelation into the world.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Parashat Beshallah: God is All Around Us

God is all around us. To our right, to our left, behind, before and above. In this week’s parsha, God stations Himself, in the form of a pillar of cloud/fire, before us to lead us, and then behind us, to protect us. Then, as we walk through the split waters of the Red Sea, the waters themselves surround us, forming walls to our right and to our left. We are surrounded and protected, nurtured and guided. We only need to take some time to feel this Presence, feel how it buoys us when we are down, leads us forward when we stumble, protects us in times of fear and danger, and most of all, accompanies us through thick and thin.

Below are two related quotes that I find inspiring:

From Sha’ar haKavvanah, attributed to Azriel of Gerona (13th century), translated by Daniel Matt in The Essential Kabbalah :
All around you – in every corner and on every side – is light. Turn to your right, and you will find shining light; turn to your left, splendor, a radiant light. Between them, up above, the light of the Presence. Surrounding that, the light of life. Above it all, a crown of light.

From the Bedtime Shma:
Michael is at my right hand.
Gabriel, at my left.
In front of me, Uriel,
Behind me, Raphael,
And Above my head is the Presence of God.

And back to our parsha:
Vehamayim lahem homah meyiminam umismolam. And the waters were for them a wall on their right side and on their left.

May we always feel accompanied.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Parashat Va'era: How We Are Like Pharaoh

In what ways are we like Pharaoh?

There is some truth out there that keeps knocking at our door – plague after plague, sign after sign– and we stubbornly refuse to hear it. And this stubbornness, this refusal to change, to shift our views and actions based on experience, this refusal to “let them go,” to let go of whatever it is we are too tightly holding on to, this stuckness is the source of our own suffering. Pharaoh creates his own demise through his deafness and blindness. And so do we all. We are too confident to hear, too scared to let go, too busy to hear and see. Our hearts have become too heavy, too habituated to be able to shift gears. And so we suffer. We suffer because we can’t let go of our old habits, can’t admit that we were wrong, can’t hear the emerging truth that beckons.

Again and again, the call comes. It is a determined call, hoping beyond hope to be heard once and for all. And mostly, we are not like Moshe, turning toward the burning bush. Mostly, we are like Pharaoh, unable to turn aside, mired in the comfort of our castles.

The story of the exodus is not just a story about the Israelites. It is also a story about Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s many attempts to let go. He lets them go and then changes his mind. He lets them go and then runs after them. This, too, is familiar to us – we achieve momentary freedom, we do heed the call, we do let go, but only to return quickly to our confident postures of stuckness.

What voice, what truth, what signs are we not heeding? Where are we being stubborn? What do we need to let go of in order to shift, to achieve redemption, to free ourselves from suffering and thereby also free others?