Archive for Seasonal Kavannah

Tisha B’Av

By Reb Miles,  5771

In memory of my mother, Miryam bat Mikhel ve-Leyka, who passed away on the 21st of Tammuz.

Tonight and tomorrow we observe the 9th of Av, one of the darkest days of the Jewish calendar. According to our tradition, the 9th of Av was the date of the destruction of both the first Temple in 586 BCE, and the second in 70 CE.

But the first temple and the second temple were very different entities, and according to our tradition their destruction hints at very different things.

The first temple was the temple built by David and Solomon. It was a temple that existed before Torah in the way that we understand it, the way we have it now, because at that time they only had the written Torah. They didn’t have the oral tradition. When we think of Torah today, we’re basically thinking of the oral tradition. The Talmud, the midrash, the commentators – everything that we have is the Torah of human interpretation, the whole process of the human effort to mediate and apply divine guidance.

But in the first temple they didn’t have that kind of Torah. What they had in those days was prophets. On the other hand, in the first temple they had all kinds of things that we later lost. For example by the time of the second temple they didn’t have the holy ark, which contained the tablets of the covenant. Some people think it’s in Ethiopia – you might have seen Indiana Jones, for instance. The ark was in the first temple, but it was lost after that.

In the first temple there were all sorts of incredible things, because the period of the first temple was the period of miracles. In the first temple, the Shechina was said to be actually present in the temple. The divine presence was in the temple, was literally right in the temple. The holy ark was in the temple. The tablets were in the temple. The heavenly flame was in the temple. The urim and thummim were in the temple – the High Priest had this breastplate with these stones, and they could receive prophecy by looking at these stones. All that was in the first temple. The rabbis say that ruach ha’kodesh was in the first temple: divine inspiration dwelt there.

But the first temple was destroyed. Why was it lost?

In the Gemara the rabbis tell us that the first temple was lost because of three things: because of avodah zarah, gilui arayot, andshfichat damim. These are the three absolutely cardinal sins in Judaism: the three worst things you can do.

Firstly, not worshipping God – literally avodah zarah means foreign worship, and it can be understood in all sorts of ways. Personally I like to understand it the way the Baal Shem Tov understood it: he equated it with any form of self-worship. The Baal Shem Tov connected it with the quality of gaavah, of seriously taking yourself as something that exists independently of God. That’s avodah zarah – if you’re worshipping anything but the One power itself, which is all that exists, in its myriad forms. If you think you’re something else: that’s avodah zarah. If you’re turned towards anything else besides that One: that’s avodah zarah.

Historically, it’s one of the acts that the rabbis say if someone tries to force you to do, on pain of your life, you should allow yourself to be martyred instead. You simply can’t do it.

So it’s associated, in a way, with a quality of korbanot, of sacrifice. A person who refuses to commit avodah zarah makes them self a korban. I make myself an offering to God. If I’m not a sacrifice to God, then that’s avodah zarah.

It’s as simple as that, from the Baal Shem Tov’s point of view. If I really have deep faith in the teachings of our tradition, that there’s really only One, and nothing is outside of that, and certainly there’s no way that I could be; if that’s the case, I’m not outside of it either – so really there’s nothing else for me to worship, except the totality itself. Only that One which is creating and sustaining and destroying and changing and empowering everything. You can think of it in different ways, but really the more I think about it the more awesome and amazing and inspiring it seems to me. The recognition of it is its worship.

When it comes to avodah, the service of the divine, there are different ways of doing it. But the original meaning had to do with the way they did it in the first temple, because they had the sense that the Shechina was right there with them.

That temple was constructed as a microcosm of the totality itself. They had knowledge of sacred geometry, and they knew how to make a building – and remember, the temple has very specific plans, how many boards here, how wide, how high – and people have studied it, just like they study the Egyptian temples. So they understood sacred geometry, and because of sacred geometry, the temple was built in such a way that it was a microcosm of the totality itself, and since the totality is filled with the divine presence, the scale model, as it were, is filled with it too. And because it was built that way and the Shechina was in it, it was filled with wonders.

So you could say: the first temple was a temple of seeing. Everything was visible. You could see the aron ha’kodesh, the holy ark. You could see the divine presence right there, you could see the fire – you could see all these awesome things.

The rabbis say it was destroyed because of these three things: avodah zarah, worshipping something other than the One, other than the totality. Gilui arayot means sexual behavior that is not wholesome. And shfichat damim means, basically, murder. People were murdering each other; they were not honoring sacred relationships, and they weren’t living as sacrifices to the One, the totality; they weren’t living in service to God.

According to the rabbis, the energy of this was very undermining, to such an extent that together – unwholesome sexual relationships, and people killing each other, and not surrendering to the power of the Shechina, not offering themselves to the Shechina – those three things undermined the stability of the entire community and the entire culture, and as a result the temple was destroyed.

But the second temple was completely different. The second temple didn’t have any of these wonders, and the rabbis didn’t say that the Shechina was really present in the same palpable way in the second temple.

What came in in the second temple period was Torah.

And the rabbis ask: why didn’t the second temple last? The answer they give is that the second temple was destroyed because ofsinat chinam. Because people hated each other. The second temple was destroyed because people hated each other.

You can see the tremendous difference between these temples. With the first temple, it’s very grave, heavy, overt things that brought it down. You can see very easily how with things like that it’s very difficult for a religious culture to cohere.

The implication is that with the second temple, people weren’t doing all these terrible things. They weren’t murdering, and so on. But it was brought down because there was division. Inner division. Because of looking down on others, hatred of others, not honoring others. That’s all it took.

There’s something very paradoxical about this history. On the one hand it seems that with the first temple all the wonders that they had, all the marvels – they’re very magical; they had prophets and prophets had these incredible experiences, visions of God and all kinds of powers. And all of this was openly revealed, on the level of seeing. And so were the things that people did wrong: they were very overt, you could see them.

The second temple doesn’t seem to be so fantastic, but it’s really deeper, because it’s connected to what’s inside people. And what’s inside people is powerful enough to bring down the whole temple. When it gets that deep, you don’t need such overtly terrible things to upset the equilibrium, to upset the balance. The equilibrium of the second temple was undermined just because people had bad opinions of other people. That’s sinat chinam.

Just as the first temple was connected to the quality of seeing, the second temple was connected to the quality of hearing – because the second temple wasn’t governed by prophets; it was the beginning of the period of oral Torah. It was built by Ezra and Nehemia, and what did they do? They went around and they read Torah to people. They had public readings of Torah. Before that, in the first temple, they weren’t reading Torah to people; people weren’t hearing Torah – it was all about prophets. You had some incredibly inspired people that stood out, and divine inspiration came through them, and you could see it.

But when it came to the second temple, you had somebody reading the Torah and explaining it, and people were listening. It’s not as amazing, it’s not as fantastic, but it’s really deeper. And it’s more democratic. The responsibility has come down to every person. Historically it wasn’t quite there yet – but it was moving in a democratic direction. The second temple is the beginning of collective responsibility. It’s a temple that was built on hearing Torah, and the Shechina in that period was knesset Yisrael. Knesset Yisrael is the community of Israel. It wasn’t that the Shechina was in the Temple and you would go and worship there; but there was the Shechina in every individual soul, and the collective, all the souls put together, is the place that the Shechina was, during the time of the second temple.

So what destroyed it? Sinat chinam. People were against each other.

For the second temple to exist, you had to have knesset Yisrael. You had to have a community of mutual respect. You had to have a community in which every person would see the divine presence in every other person. The fact that people were divided: that’s what destroyed it.

There were no rabbis in the first temple, and there were no rabbis in the second temple, either. Rabbis came along after the second temple was destroyed. Really they came in the wake of the destruction of the second temple, when Yochanan ben Zakkai escaped from the Romans, and he got permission to create the first yeshiva in Yavneh. That was in 70 of the common era, and after that some of the Pharisees who managed to survive the destruction of the temple, gathered in the town of Yavneh, in the Galilee, and they began to create rabbinic Judaism – which is essentially based on the fact that we don’t have the temple any more. We haven’t had a temple since then; we have what the rabbis created out of what was left when the temples were destroyed.

The rabbis said a couple of very interesting things in this regard. One is that anybody who has daat – anybody has deep knowledge of God – it’s as if the temple was rebuilt during their life. Anybody who has an enlightened mind, anybody who has direct knowledge of God: if that person is in the world, it’s as if the temple is in the world.

Another thing that the rabbis said was that when it comes to the first temple, because the problematic behavior was so obvious, you could also see when this behavior ceased. It was all on the level of seeing, on the level of the overt. But when it comes to the second temple, everything was more hidden. You couldn’t really see sinat chinam, because it was inside people. You can’t necessarily see hatred or lack of respect. Sometimes you can, but sometimes it’s hidden in people’s hearts and because you can’t see it, you can’t see the end of it.

And that hatred is in fact why we still don’t have a temple two thousand years later. Not only did it bring down the second temple, but it’s made it virtually impossible for the third temple to be rebuilt.

However, in the wake of the loss of the second temple, the rabbis brought Torah to the world in the sense that we understand it – the oral Torah. The written Torah just means the letters and the words as they are arranged in the Torah scroll; but what we really mean by Torah is everything that students of the Torah have learned and taught over the past two thousand years. That’s the oral Torah; all our rabbinic literature. That’s the way that Judaism works – you don’t even imagine that you could understand the written Torah without the oral Torah. It’s not a stand-alone. The rabbis introduced a very sophisticated, deep hermeneutic, and it’s up to us to figure out what exactly God wants from us. And that’s what the Torah really is – assuming the responsibility of interpreting and mediating what we’ve received.

That’s really the Torah of cherut, the Torah of freedom. it’s not the Torah that’s written in stone, that Moses wrote with his finger. It’s the rabbis’ effort to reclaim the original tablets that Moses broke, that were written with the finger of God. The Torah that was written by the finger of God is the Torah of cherut, of freedom, not of charut, graven-ness; it’s a Torah of infinite possibilities.

So when we think about the third temple, we have to continue the work of the rabbis. Their third temple is the temple of daat, the temple of direct knowledge of God. The rabbis were working on the temple of the human heart, the temple that would be built through the fixing of our nature, through our evolving ourselves, through our each becoming a miniature temple. We ourselves have to become the microcosm.

The second temple necessitated the bonding together of all Israel in order to maintain it, but they couldn’t do that because they didn’t have enough Torah yet. After that temple was destroyed, the oral Torah really began to evolve, and the emphasis of the oral Torah is that every person really needs to become a temple of their own. That’s pretty deep. That means I don’t have to go anywhere else to experience the divine presence. The Shechina is right where I am, if I’m a temple. The divine presence is everywhere I go.

It seems to me that this is where we are now, except that now I would say that we have to move beyond even that.

The second temple was based on a conception of knesset Yisrael – that all the Jews have to love each other. The third temple requires that we go way beyond that. It has to be a one world temple. The prophets talk about the third temple being a house for all people. What house is big enough for all people? It has to be the world itself. Only the world itself is big enough for God to say “This is my house for all people.” The earth itself is the third temple. This is the temple that we have to dedicate ourselves to.

In the kabbalistic tradition every month is associated with a particular flaw or place which is ripe for rectification. The months of Tammuz and Av, where the three weeks fall, are associated with a flaw in hearing, and a flaw in seeing. The truth is that we’re impoverished in terms of seeing and of hearing – how we see ourselves, and how we see the world.

The correction comes through hearing words of Torah, hearing true words, the words that have the power to fix the way we hear and see. If we look historically we for sure want to fix the sinat chinam, the hatred and disrespect, that brought down the second temple.

But I think really now we’re trying to fix the entire way we see on the level of the third temple: we need to see the whole world as the temple of god. If we’re not seeing that, something’s wrong with our seeing. Hearing the “Shma,” that haShem is One, can fix the way we see. Because however it might appear, the truth is that all is really One. The whole world is nothing but the temple of God.

The rabbis said that whoever sheds tears for Jerusalem will also get to experience its joy. To be able to experience the joy of the third temple, you have to experience grief at its absence. The three weeks are the time for that – the three weeks are the time to really grieve for the brokenness of the world. We’re so jaded, so conditioned to accept the tragedies of the world that we hear about every day on the news. But now is the time to allow that in, to understand how we’re connected to it, how it’s all taking place in the temple of God. If you can’t shed tears for the brokenness, you’re not going to get to the place of the third temple.

The holy Ari, the kabbalist Yitzchak Luria, taught us that Tammuz and Av are like the eyes in the face, in part because this is the time for a correction of seeing. And there’s a verse in the book of Lamentations, that we read on Tisha b’Av:

Al eleh ani bochiya; eini, eini yordah mayim
Ki rachok mimeni menachem, meishiv nafshi

“Because of all these things I’m crying; my eye, my eye is dripping with water
Because the comforter who can restore my soul is far from me.”

I think when we say soul there what that means is the world-soul. There are various ways the individual can feel OK, and thank God we are in a time and place where we personally are more or less safe. But really, for as long as it’s all one world, we’re in delusion if we’re not feeling the suffering of others.

Currently we’re between the second and the third temples, though many sources say we’re getting close to the end, that we’re a lot closer to the end than we are to the beginning. According to the rabbis, every generation contributes to the building of the third temple; it all adds up. It’s the work of all generations. We’ve invested at least two thousand years in this third temple, and now we’re getting very close to the end of this period. Halavai – if only – we should see it in our own time, we should see the fixing of the 3rd temple, the rebuilding of the world.

There’s a practice that can help us a great deal in transforming ourselves into microcsomic temples:

You can circulate your breath around what the Taoists call the micro-cosmic orbit – inhaling from the base of your spine up to the pineal gland in the middle of your skull, and then exhaling through your third eye down to your heart. As you do this you visualize the path of the breath, and inwardly sound the letters of the divine four-letter name which is associated with the month of Av. As you inhale you sound ha – va and as you exhale sound ya – ha.

When you circulate energy like this, you may see a lot of light. Don’t do this practice for so long that you obliterate yourself; when the light has built up a bit, switch to the mantra “ozer dalim” – “[God] helps the downtrodden” – and stay with that for a while.

May the merit of this practice and of the oral Torah help us all transform into completed pieces of the third temple, speedily and in our days.

And may we all be blessed to feel what we need to feel during the three weeks, during Tisha b’Av; may the world be safe; may the fixing of hearing and seeing take place and be whole and complete, and lead us in the direction of the other side, the side of the birth of mashiach, that’s also related to Tisha b’Av; and may the mayim that runs from our eyes when we feel the pain of the downtrodden that runs through this world be transformed, through our devotion, to mayim chayim nozlim m’levanon , the life-giving waters that flow down from the transcendent source of pure compassion. Amen.

Pesach 5771

Passover and the Power of a New Beginning

What’s In a Name?

There are many names for the divine but this Passover none is more powerful than the Tetragrammaton, the Shem Hameforash, the most explicit and unutterable name, the way that we name that which everything is resting on and drawing from is the name yud-heh-vav-heh (the “Name”).

According to the Zoharic tradition (the foundation of Jewish mystical texts), everything is somehow expressed by this name yud-heh-vav-heh.  It is everything and everything is in it.  And every secret is somehow related to these letters.  It is the hermeneutical DNA underlying all of creation: It represents the basic structure of divine energy which results in manifestation in the world, which results in time, which results in the human body.

The Secret of the Seasons

According to the mystical tradition, every month of the year has a special verse from the Bible that goes with it.  And these verses, or pieces of verses, always have the four Hebrew letters of the Name, in some particular order that corresponds to the energy of the month.  Usually, this means that there is a verse with a sequence of at least four words, and one will begin with ayud, one will begin with a heh, one will begin with a vav, and another will begin with a heh.

So the mystics over the centuries studied the Bible very carefully in Hebrew, and looked for hints where these letters come together; because the Name is so powerful, there’s so much energy in that Name, that if you can find a place where those four letters come together it could give you a clue to some deep significance.  As in the alchemical, scientific or raja yoga tradition, seekers within the Jewish Mystical tradition applied their insight and mind power towards looking for hints.  Hints that could help us learn more about who we really are and what the world really is and how everything works.  A lot of the mystical tradition, you could say, is basically that.  It is gilui sodot – revealing of secrets: secrets of heaven, secrets of the earth, secrets of our souls.  And these secrets are windows into reality that we must find and open.  Experimenting with the new view to see what it can do for us.  People have been guided in their search to certain powerful sources and places, and because of their motivation they have put themselves deeply into the investigation of what could be found by opening that particular window.  Often if they discovered something, they wrote a sefer [holy book] about it.  Or, if unsafe to publicize, they shared it with someone trustworthy, hence our oral traditions.

What they were doing was studying the flow of time and seeing what they could learn about the energy of different tekufot, different seasons or periods of the year.  Like the Julian calendar, the Hebrew calendar has four seasons.  Each season has three months: in Spring, the months each have a Biblical verse beginning with yud; in Summer, with vav; in Fall and Winter, with heh.  As one season ends and another begins, there is a tremendous release of energy, like a power-surge.

The heavens and earth rejoice together: alignment, flow and joy

And so when they were studying how the energies implied by the Name relate to the year, they came to the conclusion that this month, Nissanwhich is one of the two most powerful months of the year, is a month that is related to the power of the nameyud-heh-vav-heh in the natural order of its lettersIt’s the only month of the whole year for which the energy of the divine name is expressed in perfect order.  So the name for Nissan, is the Name, yud-heh-vav-heh.

And the verse that is connected to those roshei tevot [initials] is:

Yismechu Hashamayim, V’tagel Ha’aretz 
The heavens are rejoicing and the earth is in great joy (Psalm 96).

Nissan is a time of tremendous joy.  It is the only month of the whole year when heaven and earth are rejoicing together.

Even though the letters of the Name are the infrastructure of every person and every thing and every interaction, at most times of the year there is a disconnect, something is hidden or out of order.  And when the letters are out of order, we’re out of order; we’re confused and unhappy.  But when all the energy of the letters is in the right order and they are revealed and we are in alignment with those letters, then heaven is happy and we are happy. That is the potential of the month of Nissan.

Yismechu Hashamayim, Vtagel Ha’aretz.  It’s a beautiful image: heaven is having a fabulous celebration and we are at the party. 
ismechu Hashamayim, V’tagel Ha’aretz.

Nissan: the new year of the Goddess

It is a happy new year.  The Jewish tradition actually has two months that are called new years.  In the Gemara, one of the most famous disputes is whether the world was created in Nissan, or whether the world was created in Tishrei.  And generally we think that the world was created in Tishrei (or maybe a few days before, actually, if you really study the texts carefully), and we celebrate Rosh HaShanah on Rosh Chodesh [new moon], on the first of Tishrei.  But the Torah calls the month of Nissan “the first of the months.”  Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chodashim (Exodus 12:2).  This is the rosh [head] of all the months, and that’s why the rabbis have this machloket [dispute] about it: how could this month be the head, the rosh of all the months, if the monthTishrei is the beginning of the year?

Accordingly, when the kabbalists look at the year, they divide it into two halves, an upper half and a lower half – the light months and the dark months.  The months from spring to fall, and the months from fall to spring.  The months from fall to spring are considered male months; the months that are provided for by the male aspect of divinity, which is usually called the Holy Blessed One [kadosh baruch hu].  And the months from the month of Nissan until the beginning of Tishrei, those six months are the feminine months or female months; those six months are provided for by the feminine aspect of divinity, which is known as the Shechina.

And so if you look in the mystical secrets of the months written by Isaac Luria he says that this month, the month of Nissan, is the month of the gulgolta d’nukba.  The gulgolta d’nukba is like the sahasrara chakra of the Goddess.  In other words, it’s the crown of the head of the Shechina.  That is what gulgota d’nukba literally means.  What is revealed in this month is the crown of the head of the Shechina.  All winter, the Shechina, the goddess energy is hidden. This is obvious in most places in the world where during the winter months you do not see much new growth, all evidence of the goddess is below the ground.  And when you look at the way the calendar works, we celebrate Tu b’Shvat on the 15th of the month of Shvat because that is when the sap is supposed to start rising in the trees, but it is not revealed yet: you do not see the fruit yet.

But the month of Nissan, which is the month of Aviv, the month of spring, is the month when the top of the Shechina’s head starts to be revealed.  It is like the Shechina is poking her head out. You see signs of divine energy, you see signs of growth; you see fruit and leaves starting to appear.  It is one of the two most powerful months.

There is a verse in the Bible that says “he’chacham einav b’ rosho” – the wise person keeps their eyes in their head (Ecclesiastes 2:14).  The Zohar says – well where else would their eyes be?  And the answer is that rosh doesn’t just mean the head; it means the source, it means the beginning.  A wise person keeps her awareness on (or at) the source.  In Nissan, that source is revealed in a very powerful, special way so that we can better pay attention to it.

The whole point of the month of Nissan then is contained in its letters: nun, samech, yud, nun.  The “yud nun” at the end is like a plural form, so you can read it nissin, or in other words nissim – this month is the month of miracles.  The month of miracles. The month of not understanding and of seeing everything as miraculous:  of realizing the miraculous nature of existence. Of experiencing a taste of the crown chakra of the Shechina, pushing her top higher.  An energetic display that completely overwhelms any capacity to rationalize or analyze the way things are, but puts us into the state of radical amazement – an amazement that is overwhelmingly thrilling.

So we have the verse Yismechu Hashamayim V’tagel Ha’aretz: when the Shechina pops her head out, you can actually see the energy of all those lotus petals unfolding.  Heaven and earth are filled with joy at the miracle of the single bloom opening up to reveal its scent.

To embody this teaching though meditation, follow the Crowning Exercise for Nissan below.

Crowning Exercise for Nissan

In this exercise we will attempt to embody the teachings we have just learned. We will be moving through the four Kabbalistic worlds of Atzilut (Emanation), Briah (Creation), Yetzirah (Formation) and Assiyah (Doing).

[For those of you familiar with Yoga, we will start in Bala-asana, or Child Pose and move through modified versions of Vajra-asana, or Thunderbolt pose and Tadasana, or Mountain pose.]

1.Sit on your knees, feet together with your buttocks on your heels.  Close your eyes. He’chacham einav b’rosho.  The Zohar teaches us that a wise person keeps her awareness on (or at) the source.

2. Take a deep breath and as you exhale let your body fall forward, resting your forehead on the floor (or, if not possible, on your knees), reaching your arms above your head along the floor.

3.Bring your arms to your sides, palms up to receive. You are now in a fetal position.

4. Relax.  Breathe gently as you imagine yourself curled up like a fetus in the womb.  You are now in the realm of Atzilut, where everything is present but unexpressed.  You are pure Chochma, the seed from which all your potential can grow.

5. Inhale as you sit up on your heels, placing the palms of your hands on your thighs and keeping your back straight.  As your head rises, imagine the seed within you beginning to sprout green shoots as you move into the realm of Briah, creation.  Now imagine that green force of life coursing through your body, awakening your internal organs, tingling in your fingers and toes.

6. Continue to rise up to a standing position slowly, pushing down with your legs into Malchut and feeling the energy of the Shechinah as the green shoots at your crown break through the surface of the earth.  You are in the process of formation, in the world of Yetzirah, in the season of Spring.  You are the  bridge between earth and sky, so feel yourself pushing down through your legs and feet to secure your roots firmly in the ground while your upper torso and head grow away from your roots towards the sky.  Take a moment to feel the point of balance within that connects what is above with what is below.  Is it in the heart? Yismechu hashamayim v’tagel ha’aretz, heaven and earth are together in this joyful state.

7.  Continue to breathe as you stretch your arms up above your head, palms facing your ears, stretching your fingertips as far as they can.  You are entering the world of action, of Assiyah.  In your stretch you bring all your inner potential into the outer world.  Feel how the heart and the mouth are aligned within you, on the bridge connecting the world of Assiyah, the earth, with the world of Atzilut, the heavens.  You are full of potential ready to be expressed.  In a moment you will open your eyes, and then your mouth, as you re-enter the seeing, speaking world.  Remember this channel of divine grace that exists right now in your body.  You have created the energy of joy.  Remember to keep the mouth speaking from this dimension in your heart so that you may spread the energy of Pesach, the energy of Nissan, throughout the whole year.

Open your eyes.

Based on Kabbalah, Yoga and adapted from the Seed Exercise in Paolo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage.

Purim 5771


The shabbatot before Purim – compassion, and remembering It’s very lovely, and such a wonderful opportunity, to absorb the energy of Adar.

There’s a saying in the gemara, in the rabbinic teachings, that if you really want something to succeed, you should plant some Adar in it.  Sometimes that’s understood as “you should do your planting in Adar,” – which conveniently comes at about the right time for people in a lot of places to do their planting; but it’s strange the way they say you should plant Adar in something.

So the energy of Adar – it’s really very special, and when you come to the month of Adar there are always extra special Torah readings, in keeping with the energy of the month.  Before you get to Purim, you have two special readings each Shabbat before you come to Purim: you have Shabbat Shekalim, and then you have Shabbat Zachor: the Shabbat which is called “shekels,” and the Shabbat which is called “remember.”

So to get to Purim you have to get the energy of shekels, and the energy of remembering.  Shekels, if you don’t know Hebrew, means money.  You have to get the energy of money.  In the old days, people paid a certain tax, in shekels: you had to pay your dues, basically. This inyan [matter] of money – this means, really, in Jewish language, tzedakah [charity]: when you give something to other people.  In other words money, basically, means compassion.

So first of all you have to have a shabbat of compassion, of caring, of being willing to give to people who need, because that’s a very direct expression of sharing the quality of the tzaddik [the righteous person] – how we can make ourselves closer to the model that I believe the Creator has for us.  What the divine hope for us is to be, I believe, all of us tzaddikim in this world.  We have a verse which is proof for that – which says: “All of God’s people are tzaddikim” (Isaiah 60:21).  So everyone who comes into the mould, the form, that God really wants for them, comes into some kind of tzaddik model.  Each one different from the other, because there’s not just one mould – but everyone has their place to fill within the totality of being.

So before you can get to Purim, you have to have shekalim and you have to have zachor.   You have to have compassion, to be a sharer, to be able to give something righteously, to share of what you have with others.

‘Amalek’ means that which attacks us at our weakest point

And then the shabbat that comes right before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor, the shabbat to remember.  But what are we supposed to remember?  We’re supposed to remember “zecher Amalek.”  We’re supposed to remember Amalek, a people in the Biblical story who are infamous for attacking the Israelites when they were at the weakest point.  They sneak up on the Israelites when they have been decimated by all kinds of problems of life, and they’re like a tail, they make a tail, and Amalek sneak up and take the weakest people who are straggling behind.  They don’t attack Moshe and the leaders – they pick off all the weak people; that’s what Amalek does.

So we have to understand what this memory is, what we have to “zachor.”  In the Torah it says, “Remember to blot out the memory of Amalek – don’t forget.”  Don’t forget to remember.  And that’s the end of the special reading that we have for this shabbat.  Don’t forget to remember that we have to blot out every bit of Amalek.  Amalek, the quality – the quality that sneaks up on us.  The thing that gets us in our weakest place and brings us down where we’re most vulnerable. Where we could be captured, as it were, by a power that holds us back from reaching our potential, that holds us back from becoming tzaddikim, the people that entered the Holy Land.

So we have one parsha [portion of Torah], Shekalim, that deals with money, that deals with tzedakah, that deals with giving.  This is the side of compassion, the side of the heart, the side of caring, the side of sharing – all of those attributes that we need to have in order to be prepared to reach the highest of the high.
Purim has eternal significance, and is as high as Yom Kippur

Because Purim, we should always remember – there’s a rabbinical joke that equates Purim with Yom Kippur, because Yom Kippur is literally Yom ki-Purim – a day which is like Purim.  It’s a pun, you see; the word k’ in Hebrew means like, so Yom haKippurim is a day like Purim.  Everybody already knows that Yom Kippur is the highest day of the year, but if Yom Kippur is like Purim, then Purim must also be as high as Yom Kippur.  So Purim is very very special in its own way; it’s different from Yom Kippur, but it’s every bit as high, even though we often don’t think of it as one of the most holy of the holy days.

But in fact, it’s such a powerful time that when the sages were reflecting on what would be on the other side of the messianic age, what the world would look like, what Judaism would look like, one of the things they said is that we would still have Purim.  The other holidays we maybe wouldn’t need, if it was on the other side of the messianic age, but Purim is eternal.  Because the level, the lesson, the impact and the import of Purim has an eternal validity, an eternal significance. And that’s how high it is.  It’s something that’s unconditional on whatever the specifics of things would be – what age we would be in, what historical circumstances, what condition: there would still be Purim.

So how do we get to the place where we could have our share of Purim in this particular year?  We need to go through tzedakah, through compassion – through all the aspects which have the power to give us the means of opening our heart in this world, through caring and sharing; and we need to remember something – to remember to blot out Amalek, that power that sneaks up on us and overcomes us.  That’s the side of wisdom.  So we have a compassion side and we have a wisdom side.

So what do we need to know, that we can protect ourselves from our vulnerability?  To put these two things together – this shabbat of money, of tzedakah, of paying our dues, of sharing what we have, and the shabbat of realizing, of absorbing what it is that we need to remember.   If we could bring these two sides together, we could have what we need to prepare for Purim.

Haman and Amalek, and the power of Mordechai ha-Yehudi to counter-act this force

If we look at the question of Amalek: if we look at rabbinic literature, the rabbis basically equate Haman and Amalek.  The enemy of the Book of Esther, Haman, is an example of Amalek, who displays this same problem that can overthrow us, that can come between us and bring us down, and maybe even have a possibility of destroying us, at least for a time.

So when you think about this story, Haman represents the arch-enemy of the Jews in the Book of Esther, and is an aspect or representation of this Amalek quality.  And you have to think very carefully about what the antidote to Haman is, which is called Mordechai haYehudi, Mordechai the Jew.  If you take the name Mordechai and you do the gematria – that is to say, you take each letter of the name, and you convert it into a numerical value, and you add them up; because very often, the secrets of the Torah are revealed in these associations, in the gematria, which give you a possibility of relating something to something else you can’t see.  So at a certain level the name Mordechai is a garment; it’s holding something that we don’t see directly.  We don’t exactly know what the power of the name Mordechai is.

So the name Mordechai is the garment that’s holding something inside it.  So you could say that the name Mordechai is a kissui, which means a covering.  Mordechai is the concealment of something that’s very precious.  And of course it’s well known that when the rabbis talk about Adar, one of the main topics that comes up is that God’s character is basically absent in the Book of Esther – God doesn’t play a direct role.  So they say this is really a teaching about concealment, and how within concealment – which we might think of as something which is not so positive – actually, if you look at it in a very deep way, assuming we know the great secret of life, we can begin to see concealment in a very positive way.

The positive power of concealment

Because within concealment is the possibility of everything that isn’t manifest yet.  It’s precisely in concealment, where you can’t find something, that in fact you can find something.  It’s only that what is there is not what you know.  But you take for example the present moment, like this one, right now: even if we’re very present, this moment, there’s more concealed this moment than we know.  Regardless of what we can see, how much more is concealed in this moment! This moment has the entire past and the entire future, because this moment could not be here unless every other moment preceded it.  It doesn’t stand alone, it’s a link between the past and the future, and it comes partly because of everything that preceded it, it’s connected to everything that came before it – so everything that came before it is in fact concealed within this moment, however it looks.

We might think that however we’re experiencing it, however we’re perceiving it within the range of our understanding is all there is; but so much more is happening, so much more is happening.  We can’t even begin to know everything that’s in this moment.  And if that’s true of the past, all the more so it’s true of the future.  We don’t know what the future holds; but its entirety, all of its possibilities are contained in this moment.

So this very moment is a teaching on concealment.

The dangers of the concealment of concealment, which is called ‘deep sleep’

But that concealment is not necessarily a bad thing.  The only thing that makes it a bad thing – and here I’m quoting the Baal Shem Tov’s great teaching on concealment, that I like to remember at this time – concealment is not so bad; it’s concealment of concealment that’s the problem.  If I know that there’s concealment, then that’s OK.  Even if I don’t know exactly what’s concealed, at least I know that something is concealed: there’s much more there, there’s much more depth. It’s not really as limited as I think.  And of course the real meaning of concealment, what it always comes down to in the deepest sense, is that God is within every concealment.  Concealment makes it seem like God isn’t present, but as long as we know that it’s concealment – and the Baal Shem Tov said this over and over again –  as long as we recognize that we’re dealing with concealment, we’re very close to gilui, we’re very close to revelation, we’re very close to finding something more.

The only problem is when we forget that there is concealment.

The concealment of concealment means I don’t even know there’s concealment; and if I don’t even know there’s concealment, that’s called deep sleep. Deep sleep or forgetfulness, shikcha.  The deep quality of forgetting.

And that deep, deep, deep possibility that we might really fall asleep – and of course, we know that we’re falling asleep all the time, but that’s not really so bad as long as we can wake up.  But it’s only really bad when we fall asleep so deeply that we can’t – God forbid – wake up again.  Almost unwakeable.  People can fall into a state where you can’t wake them up any more.  That’s really the big risk: you don’t want to fall asleep without being aware that you’re falling asleep.  Because that’s when you find that you can’t wake up.

Do you ever find in a dream, when you realize that you’re dreaming, very often you then wake up?  When you see that you’re asleep, there’s already something awake there.  But there can be a state where actually you can’t awaken yourself; it’s very different to awaken.  And that’s the concealment of concealment.  You get into a state where you can’t even recognise that something isn’t right because you’re not awake.  You might feel that something’s a little off; and when something’s a little off, then you’re vulnerable.  But when I fall into the concealment of concealment, I won’t even look for a way to wake up.  I don’t even know that there is such a thing as waking up.
The power of the story to awaken us from deep sleep

Now Rebbe Nachman of Breslov addresses this problem in his book Likkutei Moharan.  He has a special teaching about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who is the main character of the Zohar.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai sort of epitomizes, as I like to call him, the Guru Rinpoche of the Jews.  He’s the ultimate enlightened master, and he has all of these great powers.  And in that lesson, where Rebbe Nachman teaches about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, he suggests there’s only really one antidote to this problem of the concealment of concealment, and that is powerful stories.

These powerful stories come from a place of greatest potency.  A place that’s represented by a personification of consciousness and divine energy that is called Atik Yomin, the Ancient of Days.  Sometimes called the Holy Ancient One.  It’s mentioned in the Book of Daniel, and in the Book of Daniel, this character the Holy Ancient One, or the Ancient of Days, is described as having the quality of hadrat panim – It has a very beautiful countenance.  It is of such beauty that It can break through even deep sleep.  It’s just so incredibly, overwhelmingly beautiful that It can break through everything.

So there is a power, according to Reb Nachman, there is a source, that one can draw from, that has the power to break through even the deepest sleep, even the sleep which is the concealment of concealment: the Ancient of Days.  And that’s the power of Mordechai.

Mordechai the story-teller, and the power of rav chessed: utterly unconditional love

Mordechai haYehudi has precisely that power.  Mordechai the Jew is a story-teller. Because if you read the Book of Esther you’ll see that there’s a verse in there that Mordechai “told this story” to Esther.  Mordechai told Esther a story.

What story did Mordechai tell Esther?

He told her who she was.  And there’s no more profound story than being able to tell someone who they are. That’s a real wake-up story.  Now imagine if you could meet someone who could tell you the story of who you are: that would be a very fortunate thing.  No matter if you were in the concealment of the concealment, such a story and such a story-teller could wake you up instantaneously.  Mordechai tells this story to Esther.

We were talking about concealment, and the concealment of Esther.  Esther has this concealment because what’s concealed from her is who she really is.  She doesn’t know who she really is.  Mordechai is also a concealment.  What does Mordechai tell Esther?  He tells her that she’s Esther.  And Esther means hester, hester panim: it means the hiding of the faces, it means concealment.

Esther herself is a concealment.  That’s what Mordechai reveals to her.  She’s a concealment.  She’s a concealment of Shechina.That’s what Mordechai reveals to her, that she herself is a concealment of the Shechina, of the Divine Presence Itself.  Esther is the Shechina, and she’s called Esther because ester is the same root word as hester, which means concealment.

So we have hadrat panim, the revelation of the beauty of the divine countenance; and we have hester panim, we have the hiding of that beauty.  Esther is the hiding of that beauty.  Nevertheless she is that beauty, and that’s why once she knows who she is, she’s able to be very powerful.  And Mordechai, who can tell the story that can transform Esther into who she really is, has the power of the hadrat panim, the beauty of the holy countenance, that can reveal the Holy Ancient One, the Atik Yomin.

And the secret of Mordechai, if you take each letter of the name of Mordechai and calculate the gematria, you will find, and you can check this yourself, you will come up with 274.  And 274 is exactly the same gematria as rav-chessed.  Rav-chessed means Great Love.  Mordechai has the character of great chessed.  He is the concealment of great chessed.  What’s hidden in Mordechai is the quality of the Atik Yomin: the great power, the overwhelming power, of the highest of the high.

Chessed is the name for one of the sefirot.  And it means, basically, unconditional love.  That’s pretty great in itself.  But ravchessed, even greater than that, is the power, the quality that comes from Atik, that comes from the Holy Ancient One.  The Holy Ancient One means as far back as you can go.  The ancient of ancients, the ancient of days, the beginning of everything.

What is it like there?  What is the nature of the energy from which everything comes, the Atik Yomin?  The secret is indicated in the name of Mordechai, and the secret is chessed.  Rav chessed.  The ultimate form of love.  The ultimate form of love, which if it’s called anything in the kabbalistic tradition is usually called rachamim.  Rachamim is translated sometimes as mercy; maybe compassion is a much better term.  I don’t even know if we have an English word which is good enough to capture the meaning of rachamim, which is so far beyond even unconditional love, it’s so absolutely pure in its good intention and its good will.  It’s so absolutely all-embracing.  It’s before any distinction whatsoever.  It’s not based on any distinctions whatsoever between any kind of thing and any other thing.  It’s just completely beneficent energy and flow.

So that’s the quality of Mordechai haYehudi, Mordechai the Jew.  And why is he called “the Jew”?  The rabbis say that that’s because that’s what a Jew really should be.  A Jew should be a channel of this “rav chessed,” should be a channel of rachamim.So this is incredibly important, I think – that the rabbis are saying that that’s what a Jew ought to be.  A channel of rav chessed, a channel of pure rachamim.

So Mordechai who reveals the concealment of Esther is able to defeat Haman, who is Amalek, the one whom we’re told – on the Shabbat before Purim especially – we should remember to blot out the memory of.

So apparently we can learn from that, if we’re going to somehow be able to overcome the power of Amalek, which is the power that imposes the concealment of the concealment; the power that makes us so asleep that we forget that we could even wake up, that we could remember God, that we could have emunah, that we could have faith.

Even if you have concealment, concealment requires emunah, requires faith, because you just can’t really know what it is that is hidden; all you can know is that something is hidden.  But what it is… you have to wait and see.  You have to wait and see what is going to come.

Why Haman chose the month of Adar

This is a very deep teaching, because the rabbis pointed out that Haman planned to do everything that he could to undermine the Jews precisely in the month of Adar.  Adar is the month of concealment.  So Haman was looking for the precise moment when the concealment would be at its greatest. That’s what shows us that Haman is Amalek, because Amalek is sneaking up when the Israelites are trying to get out of Egypt and they have to go through all these obstacles and dangers trying to get to the land of Israel, trying to get the merit to enter into the holy land.  And there is this force which is constantly looking precisely for the most vulnerable place in which to strike and knock them down.

So Haman chose the month of Adar.  Why?  The rabbis give two reasons, basically, that I can think of.  There might be more, but two of the most relevant ones are as follows.  First, there was a miscalculation, basically.  He thought that Israel was more asleep than it really was. He thought that they had really reached the ultimate level of the concealment of concealment, but in fact they were not in so deep, they were only in concealment itself, albeit deeply asleep.

The second reason, which maybe is even more interesting, is that Moshe Rabbeinu died in the month of Adar.  And so Haman knew that that was the month of the death of Moshe, and he figured, if there’s no Moshe – because that’s a principle, in the way the rabbis look at the meaning of the calendar: when something very significant in the sacred story, the story of the Israelites, happens at a certain point in the year, then the significance of that event always colors the energy of that time of the year.  And so the month of Adar is the time of the year when Moshe Rabbeinu left the world.  Nobody knows where he’s buried, where the grave of Moshe Rabbeinu is; Moshe Rabbeinu is in concealment.  He’s in deep, deep, deep concealment.

And when the Moshe Rabbeinu energy is in such deep concealment, Haman thought that meant there was no channel for Torah to come into the world during the month of Adar, and he would be able to get the Jews into the concealment of concealment because the Moshe energy wasn’t there, and therefore the Torah can’t come down into the world.  And the energy of Torah is precisely the channel that connects what is hidden to what is revealed. So the connection – what awakens, what can lead to the revelation of what’s concealed – is the Torah itself, when there’s a vessel that can bring it in.

So Haman thought that precisely in the month of Adar would be a good time to get the Jews because the power of Moshe isn’t there.

The ever-present power of rav chessed is even greater than the power of Torah

But Haman forgot something when he was calculating this, and that was: Mordechai haYehudi.  There’s a higher power even than the channel of Torah, even though the channel of Torah can reveal the most concealed of all powers.  And that power is always there.  That power is rav chessed.  That’s how powerful rav chessed is.
Concealment is necessary for the revelation of new Torah

And the power of rav chessed in concealment – really you could say the power of concealment itself – the power that Mordechai had, was that he could make a story eternal.  He could make an awakening story eternal. Because it’s really the story of new Torah.  The story of new Torah is that everything new comes from concealment, because what we know already get’s stale, even if it was good at the time.  Whatever it was, it gets worn out.  So if we didn’t have the concealment, we couldn’t bring anything new in.

So it’s precisely when something comes that covers us up that we have the most precious opportunity to discover more than has ever been revealed yet.  And that’s why the mystery of faith is so deeply connected to concealment.
The power of dreaming to connect us to a deeper awakeness than waking life

You know what, this is so deep to me, I can hardly believe it, I can hardly believe it even, I can hardly appreciate it.  You know, we have a verse that says: “When God brought back shivat Tzion – the captives of Zion – hainu k’cholmin” – we were like dreamers (Psalm 126).  If we hadn’t have been dreamers, we wouldn’t have been able to be redeemed.  For dreaming is sleeping; it’s the preciousness of sleeping, the preciousness of the concealment, of the places where we don’t know.  It’s precisely in these places – the paradox is: there’s more God in the concealment than there is in what’s revealed.  It’s crazy!  It’s totally crazy!

If we have a moment that feels like revelation, we’re very happy – and we should be very happy.  The energy when something is revealed – we can feel it, we feel that we’re waking up, that something is becoming clear.  But where does it come from?  If we hadn’t been asleep, that energy could not have come through.

And, furthermore, whatever it is that comes through, however great and wonderful it is – whatever it is it’s much less than whatever is in the concealment.

There is always more God in concealment than is revealed

It’s a crazy thing to say, but if we could add up amounts of God, the amount of God which is in concealment is infinite, and actually the amount of God which is revealed is finite.  We’re really all messed up, myself included.  We’re nuts, because when we have a revelation we think we’ve really got it, and we’re so sure we know what God is, whatever was revealed…  We get pretty excited about that, and we want to hold onto it.  And sometimes, God forbid, we get into arguments about that.  You know, what was revealed to me, what was revealed to you.  We love what was revealed to us.  The energy of revelation is wonderful.

But watch out for Amalek, that can sneak up behind us, and give us a poke in the back, and get a hold of us.  Because the amount of God that’s in the concealment is greater than the amount of God you could have in the revelation.  That’s the crazy part of it.

And if we really got how crazy it is… There’s a verse that says: “You make darkness your hiding place.”  God is hiding in the darkness.  In the darkness is where God is to be found.  At the places in which we find God, we’re necessarily getting a partial revelation. Any revelation is a partial revelation.  It’s appropriate to the time and place where it comes through. We love the revelation!  I’m not saying we don’t like it; I’m not saying it isn’t good.  I’m just saying that as good as we think it is, there’s more God in the darkness than there is in the light. And that’s why there’s more and more revelation.  That’s why there’s continuous Torah.

Probably all of us have gotten into Zen at one time or another, and when you heard about satori [experiencing a flash of enlightenment] for the first time, you probably thought, “Well, if only I could get my satori that would be it.”  And then all of a sudden one day you meet some Roshi, and he tells you, “I’ve had satori already some 16 times – some big ones, some little ones.”  Who knows how many times there’s going to be revelation, and what revelation you’re going to get, what enlightenment.  And every time it breaks through, we think: “That’s it.”  And it is.  It is it.  But at the same time, there’s more of it where we can’t see.

Because there’s always more God in the concealment.  And Purim is the time where we most clearly see that.  So may we be blessed this Purim to use the deep power of the story to wake up from the concealment of concealment, and realize the presence of God permeating the darkness, and blessing us with continual revelation, continual new Torah.

Yom Kippur 5771

Erev Yom Ha-Kippurim 5771

Dearest friends,

In appreciation of all your support and gratitude for all those who generously donated in memory of my father, Itzhaq Aizik Dov Ber ben Shimon ha-Kohen, zatza”l, I am pleased to offer this brief teaching for Yom Kippur.

Ordinarily we experience a world that we consider overwhelmingly real.  But Sefer Yetzirah teaches us that the ephemeral world of our ordinary experience can be better understood as ASHa”N (smoke and mirrors).  This smokiness doesn’t mean that the world and everything in it is not real.  It’s just that its true reality is concealed from us and manifests as Olam, Shanah, Nefesh(ASHa”N), space, time, and the perspective of an individual, ego-centered mind and consciousness.  Because of the lack of clarity inherent in our ordinary existence, we find life problematic, blaming ourselves, others, and what we think of as “God” as responsible for our dissatisfactions.  But the Torah which comes to reveal what is deeper and truer, beyond the smoke of our limited and conditional understanding, offers us an answer, teshuvah, by means of which we can break through the karmic barrier that crystallizes during the course of each yearly cycle and forgive ourselves and everything else.  This answer, the practice of teshuvah, implies returning to our source, through stripping off the smoky overlays of all the levels of who we think we are and what we think the world is. 

The very power of The Day itself At-ones

Teshuvah is something that can be practiced at any time and for some highly evolved people it is a constant practice of readjusting, remembering, and retuning oneself to the very source of manifest consciousness, Shomer Yisrael (“Guradian of Israel”), the ever-awake divine consciousness that watches over and witnesses all that manifests.  But even the most commendable and diligent practice of teshuvah cannot match the power of Yom Ha-Kippurim (The Day of At-onement), which thegemara calls Yuma, “The Day” with a capital “T.” The efficacy of The Day is one of the greatest secrets of the Torah and defies comprehension by our limited, uni-perspectival, ego-centric minds.  Generally, when we practice some form of teshuvah, the results are proportionate to our efforts, and despite even our very best efforts to “do teshuvah” a piece of independent existence remains operative.  But Maimonides teaches in his Hilkhot Teshuvah (How Teshuvah Works) that (The very power of The Day itself At-ones).”  As human beings who are the smoky expressions of the underlying divine fire, we have to feel regret for all of the shortcomings that we associate with ourselves, the actions of others that sadden us, and basically everything we feel that is related to a sense of not having fully succeeded in playing our divinely deployed roles and the world not having yet achieved its full potential.  But that regret and remorse most commonly associated with “repentance” is only the most external aspect of teshuvah.  The Heart’s remorse is itself a sign of the inner divine presence, since conscience is itself a divine quality and its inner expression is an intimation of divine love and devequt (non-separation from the divine source).  But the power of the unique Light that is disclosed only on “The Day” is so great that such a superficial awareness of devequt is only a mere awakening and this Light has the power to attract us beyond all our manifest forms until we reach the level of transparency alluded to in Leviticus 16:30, “For on This Day, at-onement occurs beyond all manifest forms of individuated self, to purify you of the weight of remorse for all you think of as your misdoings. In the very consciousness of the Totality, you will be purified.”

What then is the “secret” of this amazing teaching? In general, all our experience can be understood as “ratzo ve-shov” (actively striving to progress towards the “omega point” of evolution’s telos and re-centering ourselves again and again in the very source from which the evolving manifestations of ASHa”N emerge).  On “The Day,” however, everything is “shov,” returning to the Light itself before “the smoke” even appears.  That all-attracting Light is the secret of the (the 13 Qualities of Divine Compassion).  The unveiling of this Light ultimately elevates consciousness beyond our individuated, self-centered perspective that is called (bechirah free-will) to the level in which there is a merging with the higher consciousness and Divine Mind of the Totality, called (Yedi’ah, Divine Knowledge).

From this perspective it is clear that everything all-together is always already integrally moving according to the Will of the Totality and the very nature of existence itself IS the evolutionary process (Tikkun Olam).   And this is the very Heart of (Emunah, “faith”) and (Ahavat Olam, Divine Love). From the perspective of the higher consciousness (Yedi’ah) ofthe Great Light of the 13 Qualities of DivineCompassion, the very basis of all existence, it is clear that “you” as a manifestation of the totality cannot possibly have done anything wrong (even though there are karmic consequences). Or more correctly, you could not have done anything other than what the Will of the Totality (Retzon Ha-Shem) required of “you.”  And the realization of this At-onement is in itself the secret of divine pardon. The Great Mind within which “you” are a dream and a thought loves its creation and covers over what on the ordinary level of consciousness (bechirah) we consider our faults and shortcomings.  From this higher perspective we recognize that (even our intentional misdeeds are considered as merits). (YHVH) loves and blesses every one of us for the mere fact of our existing!

May we all have the merit to realize this on The Day of the great pardoning, The Day of At-onement.

May we all have the merit to bask in the purification of the 13 Qualities of Divine Compassion.  May the new creation of 5771 (Tav SHin Ayyin AlefTehiye SHenat Ahavat Olam: a year of Ahavat Olam, of  limitless, endless divine love for the entire world and all beings that inhabit it.

Gemar tov.


Reb Miles

Rosh Hashanah 5770

The great mystic and visionary, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, emphasizes the importance of doing teshuvah (self-transforming practices) in order to complete and enhance our preliminary attempts at teshuvah. In doing so, according to a Talmudic teaching, we can reap the benefits of two worlds, “olam ha-zeh” (this world) and “olam ha-ba” (the world that is coming). This can be understood in several ways. First is the foundational teaching that whatever we do to reflect on our deficiencies and to correct them always arises from the specific perspective of our current level of development. Since every perspective is itself relative and provisional in regard to yet higher possibilities, we need to see beyond any sense of present attainment and begin to envision what still lays ahead, “the world that is coming.” In this way, we can transform our self-transforming into something even more evolved.

The old-paradigm approach to teshuvah places particular emphasis on refinement and improvement of the “individual self” and its relationship to other “individual selves.” That is the teshuvah of “olam ha-zeh” (this world) and has served us well within the parameters of previously established levels of consciousness. But what of the teshuvah of “olam ha-ba” (the world that is coming)? To begin to attract the future, we need to turn ourselves in the direction of a more evolved self-model. We can think of this turning as a shift in awareness from thinking of ourselves as separate, rigidly defined, particulate selves with distinct borders to bringing into greater clarity a sense of ourselves as inter-active, inter-dependent, co-creating waves equally participating in the Ocean of Totality (YHVH).

Teshuvah on teshuvah (correcting our correction) is not another level of the teshuvah of self-criticism and seeking forgiveness for the uncomfortable and regrettable effects of our apparent and isolated particularity (which remains nevertheless a necessary precondition for most of us). Rather it is an unfolding, embracing, turning beyond mere particularity towards recognition of the way(s) that we are already present within the Great Ocean within which we are all inter-participatory waves.

In Elul, the focus is on preliminary, particulate teshuvah, ridding ourselves of the tired, old, and outmoded selves of “olam ha zeh.” To enter the new paradigm of the New Year, we need to turn ourselves towards the higher teshuvah of “olam ha-ba” (the world that is coming). This means deeply focusing on a vision of a future in which our wave-like selves will literally be our “second-nature.” In this way, as we turn towards Rosh Hashanah, the “Head” of the New Year, we can refine our “Mochin” (high-command consciousness) toward greater awareness of the “world that is coming.”

I wish you all great success in the practice of recognizing and releasing into the most positive future form of the Divine Dreaming that is already present within our presence. May we have greater success in this coming New Year in cooperatively creating greater awareness of the ever-changing harmonies and melodies of all dancing wave-selves that collectively contribute to the incomparable beauty of the Ocean of Be-ing.

May you be written and sealed immediately in the Book of Life for the good that is coming.


Reb Miles

Shavuot 5770

Although commonly called “Shavuot” (Festival of Weeks) because it occurs seven weeks after Passover, the early rabbis called this festival “Atzeret” (Gathering or “Getting it together”). We “get ourselves together” through the process of consciously counting the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. Reb Nosen teaches that this process is alluded to in the verse from Song of Songs 5:5, “I took my bitterness (literally myrrh) along with my spice.” In other words, to “get ourselves together,” which is the only way we can receive the Torah on Shavuot, we need to go through a seven week process of consciously witnessing both the positive and negative parts of ourselves. We have to become whole through recognizing and owning our “shadow” as well as our “spice.” Without this wholeness, we can’t receive new Torah, because the holy sparks of the potential for new Torah are buried in the very qelippot (shells) of the shadow. However if we are brave enough to bring the light of consciousness to the shadow, we can not only release the extremely contracted holy energy that sustains the qelippot, but also significantly expand that energy when it is released. So, this seven week experience of Sefirah (Counting the Omer), I took my bitterness along with my spice, is the very way we get to Shavuot.

Derakheha darkhey no’am ve-chol netivoteha shalom

“Ways of Torah are ways of calmness and all Her pathways are Peace.”

In Hebrew the word for being whole (SHaLeM) and the word for peace (SHaLoM) have the same root. This teaches us that receiving Torah (the Ways of Peace) and achieving wholeness is basically the same thing. Indeed, the mystery here is expressed in the Zohar’s teaching: oraita kudsha berich hu ve-yisrael chad hu (Torah, the Blessed Holy One, and a whole person are essentially one.) So if we want Torah which guides us in the Ways of Peace and we want to know the Blessed Holy One whose name is Peace, we ourselves have to seek peace through a total integration of all our parts, bitter and spicy. That isn’t so easy, but it becomes easier when we take to Heart another secret, namely that Peace and Love are also inseparable. This is indicated by the well-known gematria: echad (one) and ahavah (love) both equal 13, teaching us that the key to wholeness and peace (which have the same root) is the power of Love. Generally, the dark places within us are refugees from Love, qualities that we hide because they are so “unlovable.” But the more they remain concealed and unloved, the more they appropriate precious energy that we need to be whole and without wholeness—no peace.

We may try to complete ourselves in myriad ways, often in the form of various cravings, but the only ultimately effective remedy is Love itself, because Love is the divine power that unites everything always. Unfortunately, the Love actually present and revealed in the world of time and space is always limited due to our current state of consciousness which is a result of tzimtzum (Divine contraction). So we suffer from the yetzer hara (negative impulse) that undermines our higher aspirations. The impulse that produces such suffering fragments us, separates us from others, and is driven by insatiable cravings that conceal the very element that could satisfy us. This condition our sages called being under the control of our hearts. For our purposes, it would probably be better to understand this as tyranny of the lower mind (in which the yetzer ha-ra is like a reckless dictator).

However, while the amount and quality of Love actually present in the world of time and space is always contracted, the Power of Love itself is unlimited. It is only that in our current state we can’t yet hold the full Power of Love. So the contracted state of actual Love is itself an expression of the unlimited Power of Love that enables us to maintain our precious existence with the potential of expanding our capacity for Love through aspiration. When we come to terms with this paradox, we can find the holy sparks in the Shadow, which contains just enough Love to exist (unless we contribute more energy to it through failing in our aspirations).

What is aspiration? Desire for the guidance of Torah and knowledge of the Holy Blessed One. But this aspiration can never succeed without expanding our capacity to Love, because Love is the very nature of Torah and Divinity Itself. Those who are successful in their aspiration are called by Rebbe Nachman (in Liqqutey MoHaRaN, 33): “Heroes of Divine Power, Maker’s of the Divine Word.” (see Psalms 103:20). One can become such a hero only through integration of the yetzer ha-ra and releasing its sparks. That is to say, such a person who is also likened to an angel, gains extraordinary power through finding the Divine Power of Love present in the shadow and not just in the “spice.” Rebbe Nachman explains that such a person is called a “Maker of the Divine Word” because through integrating the shadow, Torah is revealed in the very place where it was hidden. The Hero of Divine Power makes Torah appear.

So this conscious effort to expand the Power of Love and bring it to places of concealment is the secret of drawing new Torah into this contracted world of time and space. In our tradition, we generally divide Torah into two categories, nigleh (revealed) and nistar (concealed). Conventionally, people often think this division distinguishes the exoteric biblical and rabbinic teachings from the esoteric mystical teachings of Kabbalah. But Rebbe Nachman’s understanding is far deeper. Nigleh refers to all Torah, exoteric and esoteric alike, that we presently have. But nistar doesn’t mean already existing esoterism. It refers to the Torah of the future. Torah that hasn’t entered time and space yet, because the consciousness here is not yet high enough to “make” it. This is the limitless Torah of the Divine Mind Itself (Torah sheve- Da’ato) which is expressed as the unlimited Power of Divine Love. Through our aspiration to achieve integration by finding and releasing the greatly contracted energy of Divine Love concealed in the shadow, we can draw more of the unlimited Torah and unlimited Power of Divine Love into our expanding and evolving world of time and space. In doing so, we may be liberated from the oppressive and depressing influence of the yetzer ha-ra, as the Midrash says don’t read “charut” (engraved into the Tablets) but “cherut” (freedom from the yetzer hara ) that comes through released and enhanced sparks that “make” Torah.

Rebbe Nachman concludes that while few of us may have direct access to the ultimately hidden Torah of the Divine Mind Itself, everyone has access to some level of da’at (higher mind), a level of consciousness that reflects the Divine Mind Itself. Within that higher consciousness, whatever its present level, is the source of our aspiration. Through joining our hearts to that higher consciousness we can gain greater access to the Power of Love that can free us from the tyranny of the yetzer ha-ra and make us whole. The more of us that can thus aspire to become “Heroes of Divine Power,” the more of the Hidden Torah of the Future we can bring down now and “make” real in our world of time and space.

Keyn yehi ratzon (may it be so).

Pesach 5770

How to Get To Pesach

The spiritual level of Pesach involves many things: leaping beyond our conventional view to reach the clarity of pure Hesed (understanding that everything that exists and happens is an expression Divine love and Grace), disclosing the hidden, secret Shabbat that is always present within the ever-changing flow of time, and empowering the Heart’s true desire to praise its Source. But how do we get ourselves into a condition in which such lofty goals may be attained– through the mitzvah of bediqat chametz (finding our “leavening agent.”)

So the question really is, “what is looking for chametz?” There is a great prayer from Reb Nosson of Breslov that can help us in this. As brilliant as Reb Nosson’s teachings are, for me, it is his prayers that are often most instructive. Rebbe Nachman gave him the practice of transforming all teachings into prayers in order to move the teaching from the mind that hears and records and classifies to the mind of the heart: to the intelligence of the heart that is in direct relationship with the Source. Reb Nosson’s prayers speak directly in the language of the heart that relates to Source as You, as something that is present, as Presence and Being. So he has a special prayer for the month of Nisan, for before Pesach. He says something like this: “please let me eat this matzah, let me taste and eat this matzah all the days of Pesach and let me not have even mashehu chametz …not even the least bit of chametz during the days of Pesach so that I’ll be able to eat chametz the rest of the year.” That’s his prayer and that’s his focus: the secret of really doing Pesach. “Let me eat matzah for eight days and not have the least bit of chametz so that the rest of the year at least I will be able to eat chametz.”

So, you have to ask yourself, “what’s he talking about?” Everybody knows that before Pesach, Jews do an external cleaning. Some people go to all kinds of extremes to make sure that there’s not a crumb of chametz (anything with leavening) in their house. We have the spiritual instructions called “bediqat chametz,” you should look for chametz and you should burn the chametz if you find it; you have to find it and get rid of it.

But the funny thing is that when you do the practice of looking for the chametz you say the blessing, al bi’or chametz (for burning chametz). Even though you didn’t actually burn it yet! So, why are you saying the blessing over burning the chametz when you’re just looking for the chametz? That’s the secret. Because when we’re looking, doing the “bediqat chametz, we are bringing our awareness to recognition of the leavening agent in our experience, “chametz.” Doing the mitzvah of bedikat chametz means that you are using awareness to find chametz in yourself. You can learn from the fact that the blessing that we say when we do this search is not, “al bediqat chametz,” but “al bi’or chametz,” that the looking itself is already part of burning the chametz. When you shine the light of awareness on the places in yourself where this chametz appears there’s already a process of eliminating it.


The proof text is Proverbs 20:27, “ner Hashem nishmat adam:” the light, the candle of G-D is the human soul. The candle with which you look for the chametz is the awareness of the heart that you are shining on all the places in yourself, all parts of yourself. So the instructions (exoterically) say: you should do this process during “the light of the fourteenth of the month.” “Light” here means “sunset,” when the light is changing from one day to the next, meaning at dusk. But Reb Nosson points out, as did others, that all the exoteric instructions have deeper meanings. Why do the instructions precisely say, “light of the fourteenth (of the month of Nisan)?” Because you have to bring the light of awareness to the “four and ten”: four worlds and ten sefirot. You have to bring the light of awareness to the ten sefirot of all four worlds. It is this inner examination that can raise us to the level of Pesach so the mouth can speak from the heart and Pesach can reveal the hidden aspect of Shabbat, and we can leap beyond the rational mind and believing in all the ways we think things are working, to the place of recognition of Divine Providence, “something is happening but you don’t know what it is,” as Bob Dylan sings. Something IS happening but you don’t know, exactly, what it is and that’s as close as we come to knowing, according to Reb Nachman and Reb Nosson…

In doing this, we begin to realize that we’re being pulled into Pesach. Hesed (the right hand of G-D) is pulling us into Pesach. There’s something guiding us and it’s that Da’at, that consciousness that opens us to Divine Guidance that is playing hide-and-go-seek with us most of the time. Each time we have a Shabbat or we have a Pesach we get an opportunity to look through that window into the way things really are just at that moment, it’s so precious, so priceless to have that opportunity. We should be able to look through the window that opens to where Heaven and Earth are rejoicing together and understand that everything that is happening is being guided by that vision which is always calling us, sometimes only in the gentlest way and sometimes in ways that aren’t so gentle but we don’t realize that those ways are also expressions of Divine Grace; expressions of the Love that is guiding the entire world.

So, in following the instructions of “bedikat chametz,” we’re looking for chametz, we’re looking for all those places which block us in our minds from recognizing Divine Providence: seeing where we’re held down, where we really don’t quite believe it here. We have to go through each of the four worlds. We have to go through of our actions (World of Assiyah): how do we act? How’s our Malchut doing, our sense of what we think is powerful. Do you really think that a few people in some powerful institutions are really determining everything that is going on in this world? That’s chametz. The thing that’s blocking us from recognizing that Life doesn’t really work that way. There is something behind the scenes. There’s something beyond what we can see that is really guiding the whole show. You have to take an account of your soul, of your self. When I really take a look at myself I’m looking for chametz, my chametz. What are the places where I fall into the trap of falling asleep– so I think that this is happening like this and that’s happening like that and that’s why I get angry about this or get angry about that or whatever it is that is blocking us, that’s taking us away from Shabbat? That’s chametz.

This is the world of action: how do I think it works? What do I really believe is going on here? And I have to check myself out: where am I blocked and where am I holding on to something that is constricting me, in this case, keeping me in Mitzrayim?


Then you have to look at Yetzirah, the emotional level, how feelings are aroused and whether we’re expressing them with attachment or identifying with them? That is the realm of feeling.
Then we have to go up into the level of Bri’ah. We have to look at our construction of the world, our ideas and concepts and beliefs, and see if we have any chametz up there. Are there concepts that we really think are true that bind us and limit us because of our attachment to them?

And then we have to look for chametz in Atzilut. We have to go to our spiritual world, our spiritual life and see where we’re bound there. That’s sometimes a tough one because we have to see whether we’re holding on to beliefs and practices that we might think are very spiritual, but nevertheless might be blocking us from something deeper. It’s very easy to get attached in that level and that can lead to a lot of disappointment and frustration. If you have distortions in the spiritual world and the way things are, it can strengthen our sense of being separate. Our sense of knowing, which in a certain sense is something that grows, is something that we always have to be transcending. Rebbe Nachman famously said to his students that, “you think my knowing is something special, but my ‘not-knowing’ is way higher than my knowing.” You want to have a lot of “not-knowing” in your spiritual world, in Atzilut. If you have a lot of not-knowing, there’s a lot of room for more knowing and then you can feed the knowing to somebody else so you keep opening to not-knowing and that way, you can keep receiving. There really needs to be a lot of humility. As Moshe Rabbeinu is called “the Most Humble,” of all people. In the spiritual world, it’s always good to have the sense of not so much attainment, that you haven’t attained so much. A lot of the chassidim, Rebbe Nachman especially, always emphasized you should always see yourself as a beginner, like Suzuki roshi’s, “Beginner’s Mind.” Better to be able to begin anew and never think that you did anything yet and that’s a chassidic principle: that I didn’t even get started yet.

So this is bedikat chametz. And this is the meaning of Reb Nosson’s prayer, “Please let me taste this matzah for eight days. There shouldn’t even be ANY chametz at all during Pesach. In general, a dish doesn’t have to be 100% in order to be kosher. Sixty parts kosher can cancel one part not kosher. But when it comes to Pesach, Reb Nosson wants no chametz at all. You can’t fix chametz by sixty times more matzah. So you want to have NO chametz, no chametz at all.

So, you do the search, but how can you succeed in this? How would you even know that there isn’t still more chametz? Even so, what we have to do is LOOK for chametz, that’s the mitzvah, that I’m going to look, I’m going to take the time and reflect and see if I can find my chametz. But I don’t assume even then that I managed to find everything. So I burn the rest and do a ritual where I say, “if I missed something, it’s not mine. If I missed it, it’s not mine.” After the search, you have to make the radical move of dis-identifying with any chametz that you couldn’t find for the sake of Pesach. We’ve just disowned any chametz that you couldn’t find. Do your best and after you do it you just deny that any of the chametz (that might remain) is yours.

So, matzah represents pure Da’at, pure consciousness. Ordinarily,”consciousness” doesn’t come without chametz. Chametz represents all of the extensions—all appearances within pure consciousness itself. All of the garments are our chametz, all the levels of concealment (of the underlying reality that can’t ever be seen) are chametz. On Purim we learn how the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) is dressed up in all the garments of the world and that’s basically the way the world is all the year– except for the week of Pesach. The week of Pesach we want to reach the level of the Shekhinah beli levushim (without garments). This is Da’at shlemah, the pure Da’at: the pure Da’at of no chametz. We want to be there!
We want to be there for that week. We want to dedicate ourselves for a week and especially on the seder nights that not even the least bit of chametz should even be there, not even the least. Not even in the least veil should separate us from the level of hashgachah (recognizing Divine Providence). The whole week of Pesach we want to jump up beyond the level of the rest of the year. The rest of the year, to some extent, to live in the world you’re going to have chametz. We live in the world of chametz. What other world is there?


But how are you going to live in the world of chametz without getting lost in it? Because of the miracle of Pesach you are able to realize that state of “not even the least chametz.” So we need to make that leap to the place where your heart can open up and speaking comes from the hidden place in the heart, that place of just pure, pure, pure, pure, pure Shabbos energy, the pure energy of “the world that is coming,” the place where everyone will know and see that All is One and One is All. Everything is interconnected and that Intelligence that unites everything, that creates everything, that transforms everything, that enlivens everything, that revives and refreshes, that is present should be revealed and known to all of us.

I want to bless all of us with the energy of Reb Nosson that we should really, really, really feel how fortunate we are to be in the month of Nisan, the month of miracles, the month of EVERY miracle– the miracle that once was and the miracle that can be and that will be and the miracle of the first mitzvah and that we should run with a whole heart, full of love to do that which can connect us most deeply to the One that is concealed in our actions and that we should examine ourselves SO CAREFULLY on all levels and all worlds and we should be able to find our chametz and through the power of looking at it with a clear mind and with good will and good intention the removal of (seeing through) that chametz should already be effective and may we have the merit to be able to renounce all chametz, even the tiniest bit, for the period of Pesach.

May we really taste the matzah of Divine Providence, the matzah that needs no embellishment or concealment. Taste it for what it is. May we get such a taste that the rest of the year we will be able to eat chametz because even when we’re eating chametz after Pesach we’ll still have that taste of matzah.


Moshe Aharon

Pesach 5768

The Taste of Matzah

Dedicated to the blessed memories of Yehudah Yosef ben Shoshana, beloved son of Dr. Arnold and Sue Feldman and Alison Louise Johnson, beloved daughter of Bob and Rabbi Naomi Hyman
Sponsored by Dr. Dena Drasin, Eryn Kalish, and Josh Jacobs-Veld

Most of us don’t really like matzah. We love our chametz (leavening). Matzah is just flour and water baked no more than eighteen minutes. Eighteen is the gematria of “chay,” Hebrew for life itself. So, matzah is pure life as it is, unadorned, unenhanced– the taste of pure life itself without embellishments.

Generally, to deal with our lives, we need chametz. We need something to make life interesting and tasty. We become so attached to our craving for chametz that we lose the taste for pure life itself. But our tradition teaches that the essence of Life, the Chey ha-Chayyim, is what we mean by G-d. So, in losing our taste for pure life itself during the course of the year, we become more and more estranged from the source of ourselves and all that exists. To get that taste back, we need to be reminded that G-d is there in the essence of pure life itself. In eating matzah we can rediscover what we really crave, the Taste of Tastes, so that in tasting it again, we can find it in everything just as it is.

But how can we really taste matzah? In life, many of the things that are most refined and ultimately most pleasing are often things that are classified as “an acquired taste.” We don’t necessarily like them the first time we try them. But connoisseurs tell us that if we keep trying something really good, eventually we “get it.” The hidden charm, beauty, and delight are revealed only to one who believes it is there and who is willing to devote herself to the quest. And yet, sometimes the things we develop a taste for are themselves only another form of chametz. So, we have to be very careful if we want “the real thing,” because the Taste of Tastes can only be tasted when one is beli mashehu chametz, when all chametz has been eliminated. To taste the best of the best we have to eliminate the things that coarsen our palates.

Before we can even taste matzah, we have to know what our chametz is. What are the attachments, distractions, and habits that block us from tasting the taste of pure life itself? According to the Mishnah, we are to search for chametz “’or le-arba’ah eser.” Conventionally, that means the search for chametz is usually done at dusk on the 14th of Nisan. But if we look more closely at the precise language of the early rabbis and read it literally as “light for four ten,” we can find in these words the spiritual advice to shine light on our chametz in all the ten sefirot of all the four worlds. As the verse (Proverbs 20:27) says, “Ner YHVH nishmat adam, (a person’s soul is a divine light). In checking ourselves for chametz, we need to focus our inner divine light of awareness on the “chametzdik” aspects of ourselves in all four worlds: in action, feeling, concepts, and, yes, even in our spiritual life. Where are we stuck? Where are we relying on something other than the Source of Life itself to make our lives palatable?

This is, of course, not a process in which we can be completely successful. Nevertheless, in order to taste the matzah, we have to make the sincere effort to locate (and intend to eliminate) our chametz, first. In Sefer Nachat ha-Shulchan, the Tcheriner Rabbi points out that when we look for our chametz (bediqat chametz), we say a blessing over “burning chametz,” and not “seeking chametz” even though the act of burning (eliminating the chametz that remains after the process of seeking it) doesn’t take place until the following morning. The reason is, he tells us, because the power of shining the conscious light of our souls on our chametz already begins the process of its elimination.

To succeed in this practice, we have to make sure to look very carefully in those places where our chametz is likely to be found, where we can clearly see what it is. In this way, we prepare ourselves to taste the matzah. We don’t have to and, in fact, can’t find everything. The rest we can renounce and disown. In sincerely examining the chametz that we can find, we are able to strengthen the divine light of our souls. As a result, we nullify every tendency to identify with chametz, conscious or unconscious. In that sense, we can then be “beli mashehu chametz (without any chametz at all).”

Reb Noson of Nemirov, of blessed memory, has a prayer in his Liqqutey Tefillot in which he prays that he be granted the power to really taste matzah on Pesach and to be able to be beli mashehu chametz all eight days, so that after Pesach, when we begin eating chametz again, he can still taste the matzah.

I would like to ask the Chey ha-Chayyim, Source of Life and Taste of Tastes, to bless all of us with the power to fulfill the prayer of Reb Noson. This Pesach, may we all really taste the matzah! Be-hatzlachah!

Good Shabbos. Good Yom Tov. A joyful and “matzahdik” Pesach to one and all.

Moshe Aharon Ladizhiner, Pesach 5768