Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Secret of Atonement, Yom Kippur 2020

Before Yom Kippur, a student of the Chassidic Master Rabbi Elimelech came to him to ask him how to atone. The Rabbi said, I cannot help you, but the innkeeper in the next town will teach you. He sent him to there to observe the innkeeper. When the student arrived, he was taken aback by the innkeeper’s appearance. He assumed that his Rebbe had sent him to a pious scholar, but the innkeeper was an uncouth, ignorant person who was serving drinks to his customers and indulging in idle gossip with them. Perhaps this man is one of the Hidden Tzaddikim, masquerading as a simple innkeeper, the student thought. He waited to discover the answer to his question. At night when the inn closed, the innkeeper asked his wife to hand him a huge ledger. He opened the book and began to read all the transgressions he had committed during the past year. From time to time he would pause, heave a sign of distress, shake his head in remorse, and go on with his heavy list. The ledger contained all the misdeeds and transgressions the innkeeper had committed in the course of the year – the date, time and circumstance of each scrupulously noted. His “sins” were quite benign — a word of gossip one day, oversleeping the time for prayer on another, neglecting to give his daily coin to charity on a third — but by the time he had read through the first few pages, his face was bathed in tears. For more than an hour he read and wept, until the last page had been turned. He then opened the second ledger. This, too, was a diary — of all the troubles and misfortunes that had befallen him in the course of the year. On this day the innkeeper was beaten by a gang of peasants, on that day his child fell ill; once, in the dead of winter, the family had frozen for several nights for lack of firewood; another time their cow had died, and there was no milk until enough pennies had been saved to buy another. When he had finished reading the second notebook, the tavernkeeper lifted his eyes heavenward and said: “Listen Ribono shel olam, Great One in Heaven, I know I have not done right by You and have sinned against You. Last year I repented and promised to fulfill Your commandments, but I repeatedly succumbed to my evil inclination. But on the other hand, last year I also prayed and begged You for a year of good health and prosperity, and I trusted in You that it would indeed be this way. You have really not done right by me either. Since we are approaching the day of atonement, let us make an even exchange. I will forgive You, You will forgive me, and we will begin the New Year with a clean slate. The student then understood. Yom Kippur is called the Day Atonement because William Tyndale, an English Christian chose the word Atonement for his translation of the Torah in the 1530’s. Later, the King James translation of the Torah in 1611 kept Tyndale’s word and we have adopted it. It’s a very good word for what we strive for on Yom Kippur: being forgiven and feeling that we are at peace. In today’s Torah reading, the Kohain Gadol, the High Priest, makes several confessions and atonements, one for himself, one for his household, one for the sanctuary, and one for all the House of Israel. Rabbi Israel Meir, known as the Chaftz Chayim, spoke about our Ashamnu prayer of confession listing our human sins, during which it is the custom to beat one’s heart. He said, God does not forgive the sins of one who smites his heart, but pardons those whose hearts smite them for their sins.” (YK Anthology P. 119) Which leads us to the word, Sin, a fraught word in English. You’ve heard me say that the word cheit or sin is derived from archery and means missing the mark. That tells us that the Torah has a very positive view of us humans. The Torah seems to say that God knows that we try to do the right thing; that we are aiming for the center of the target, but that we sometimes miss, getting the arrow a little too low or too high, to the right or to the left of center. Cheit also means void or empty, teaching us that when we make a negative choice or if you like, commit a sin, there is nothing of value in it. There is nothing to be gained from that choice. The Liturgy of the Holy Days is full of the message of Judgement – that God is judging us. However, the idea of judgement is actually missing in Torah. Or perhaps I should say that it’s added almost at the end of the last book of Deuteronomy, kind of as an afterthought, speaking more about judging the nations that are our foes than judging us. In fact, the word, judgment is only used in Torah to describe a human court determining if a person has committed involuntary or premeditated murder, which is found in the laws for Cities of Refuge; and these cities were abolished during the Second Temple period, in Roman times. Judgment of us by God is not found in Torah. What a shocking discovery! And yet the prayers in our prayerbooks are full of Judgment. In the Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah, the section referring to Ishmael, it says that “God heard the voice of the lad where he was.” The Talmud’s comments on that verse and also Rashi, our most famous Torah interpreter who lived in 11th Century France, agrees with Talmud, that the verse teaches us that we are judged, if at all, according to present deeds. We are only judged for right now. This is a true revelation. Am I saying that God does not punish us for past deeds. That’s right! God does not punish us for past deeds. In Torah, God only forgives and cleanses, which is told to us in the 13 Attributes, the account of Moses’ intimate encounter with God in which God describes the Divine personality. However, God does say that we are not cleansed completely, so that we will be able to take responsibility for our actions and learn and grow from them. Actions simply have consequences, and we know that. So all the beating ourselves up for what we did in the past, carrying all that guilt around year after year is the true cheit, the truly empty thing with no profit or gain in it. Many of you have heard that I discovered that if someone sins against you, they can’t look you in the eye. It should be the opposite. If someone wrongs me, I should be mad at them and not be able to look them in the eye. But that’s not the way it works – they can’t look me in the eye because deep down, at some level, they know the truth – that they have wronged me. This also applies to our relationship with God, and that’s what the sacrificial service was about: providing a mechanism for us to forgive ourselves and reconnect with God: re-establishing the feeling that we have been forgiven. And that’s why we are here today – to forgive: to forgive others, which I spoke about 4 years ago, in a sermon about forgiveness. Forgiving others has emotional and also health benefits. We are also here to forgive ourselves and feel forgiven. All the Chassidic masters taught that we should stop thinking about the past and make a new start. One said, very graphically, if you stir filth this way and that way, it’s still filth. Stirring it, or in other words, talking about our problems, rehashing them, remembering them, and re-living them, does not change our lives. It does not heal us. The teaching about making a new start comes from the Psalm 34 (:15) by David, “Turn from evil and do good.” My teacher of blessed memory, Rabbi Joseph Gelberman also wrote in his book Spiritual Truths: “We should use (our) energy for new ongoing goals… rather than punish ourselves. Regret without regressing. Regret instead with blessing. Start again.” We are asked at this season to turn, shuv, and return, practicing teshuvah. How can this be done so that we make a new start and feel forgiven? One way is to imitate God, removing judgement of ourselves, not judging others, and forgiving them, which is a process that takes intention and commitment. The classic teaching in Judaism about this comes from Pirkei Avot, Chapters of the Ancestors, which asks: “what is the way a person should go? One should have…A good eye, be a good friend, a good neighbor, one who considers consequences, and have a good heart, which contains them all (2:13).” We should all strive to see the best in everyone, speak the best about everyone, and if we judge them at all, judge them to be wonderful, good, and kind, send them love, and they will rise to the occasion. And if they cannot, have compassion for their suffering. Atonement, Kiper, literally means covering, that we cover the sins of others as if we can’t see them anymore, just as God covers our sins and does not see them any longer, only seeing us in the present. But atonement also means At-One-Ment, being at One with God. We all yearn for the Divine Presence to be manifest in our lives, to feel that God’s guidance and love is with us. Judaism sees this as the point, Pintele Yid, or flame, which burns in every soul. That yearning for Divine union is part of what makes us human. The deeper I go into my own spiritual path, the more I have realized that to see God you have to Be God. If you want to be close to the Divine, you have to walk closer to Divinity by being more patient, less judgmental, more caring, more generous, and of course, more loving. I recently learned how to be more loving through giving charity. Giving charity taught me about loving. Many years ago I was not so generous. I would evaluate the person asking me for a donation to try to determine if they were worthy or if they really needed it. I learned through being a rabbi that if a person comes to me, that my task is to give to them and not to judge. How do I know who is truly in need? I don’t and I never will; and if I’m asked, I know that person needs what they ask for more than I need it. It becomes my mitzvah: a gift to me and an opportunity at that moment, to heal and help. I learned that this is precisely the way God loves us and how I should love others –not withholding my love, but giving it freely to all those around me. It’s not my role to judge them, but only to give love. Everyone is worthy of receiving love. So, if I want to be close to God, I have to love like God and manage my emotions, not becoming angry or even hurt when others are living their lives as they want to; not trying to control anyone, just loving them from a place of security and trust. In this way we free ourselves of the need to manipulate. Our relationship with God becomes clear, healed, and whole. We are At-One-Ment, at peace, and not separated from God, as Isaiah said, (It is) your sins which have separated you from your God.” We are here to feel the release of forgiveness, the joy of closeness with God and the new start the New Year brings. May we go through this process that Yom Kippur gives us, also as a gift, release our judgement as God does for us, and love each other freely as God does for us, accepting ourselves, appreciating the promise of the New Year and all the opportunities and choices that will present themselves. Forgiveness is the gift we give to ourselves. Forgiveness on Yom Kippur is the gift God gives to us so that we can feel at one with God and ourselves. We have already been forgiven. Let us be grateful for the contentment of At-One-Ment and keep our hearts open throughout the New Year!

The Meaning of Shofar This Year, Rosh Hashanah 2020

Living is a contact sport. We are social animals and we crave interaction. Yet for six months we have been more isolated than at any time in our life’s experience. However, through this time we have been jostled and prodded in a sense, by forces which have contacted us, mostly non-physically: rather intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. From Black Lives Matter to the environment to economic injustice and to immigration, these have all touched us. We know we are experiencing a shift – a major shift. What meaning people in the future will assign to this shift, we do not know. It is happening to us and because of that, what it means to us and what we are learning from it is much more important than what historians will say about it in the future. Rosh Hashanah is the holiday when we come together to eat well with family and friends. But no one knows what it’s really about. There is only one commandment in Torah concerning Rosh Hashanah, other than we are to do no work on our holiday. Rosh Hashana’s only commandment is to hear the sound of the shofar. That’s it. And no one knows what that’s about either. Perhaps we can explore what Rosh Hashanah and what the sound of the shofar can mean to us this year. Maimonides famously taught that the sound of the shofar means, Sleepers Awake! Scrutinize your deeds and return to God in repentance. However, this year is different. We have become different. We need a different meaning. The word T’ruah actually comes from the root R-UT, which means affection. It means friendship, neighbor, and even wife. This year God is calling to us – through events and through our gathering together to hear the sound of the Shofar. It’s sound says, I am calling to you in love. I am calling to you insistently: through events and through your seclusion, like the time of your wandering in the empty wilderness when you received the Torah, away from civilization, in a place of less distraction, a quiet, wild, and uncertain place. I am calling to you on an inner level to remember who you really are. You are me – me on earth, and I am you. Who you really are can be recalled from my intimate encounter with Moses which you call the 13 Attributes of God – a description of my personality – when I said, I am all Being. I am compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in kindness an truth, forgiving and cleansing. Further, I am justice, I am caring – Eyl Kana - A God who cares passionately, I am loving, as I loved you into life, sustain, guide you, and teach you with my love, and I am within each of you – in your heart and in your mouth, as it says in Deuteronomy. God has come during these six months, to heal us and we are being called to grow. What’s interesting about the Holy Days is that we are commanded, not only to participate in our growth, by simply showing up for the holiday, but also to lead it: to lead and direct our own growth. The prophet Jeremiah taught that the wound is the cure. God said, “For I will restore health to you and heal your wounds. (Jer 30:17) and the midrash explains: The ways of God are unlike those of humans. For a person inflicts a wound with a knife and heals with a bandage, but God heals with the very things with which God wounds. (Ex Rabba 50:3) WE have come to life and to this time in our lives to HEAL – to heal ourselves and our society. In the midrash, a commentary on the Torah there is a classic teaching that each blade of grass has its very own angel urging it to Grow, grow! (Midrash Rabba, Bereshit 10:6) If every blade of grass has an angel, we certainly have angels, or energies from the Divine, urging us to grow. And during this time the angels, like the sound of the Shofar, are even more insistent. A quote from Norman Mailer echoes in my mind: There was that law of life so cruel and so just which demanded that one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same. (Barbary Shore Chapter 26) Something is being asked of us. But exactly what is it? Albert Einstein famously said “We cannot solve the problems with the same thinking that created them.” We are being taken to an entirely new level of human functioning: much more interior - centered and much less exterior centered – more virtual and less physical, more energetic and less physically tangible. These urgent demands on us are changing us quickly. We think that the events of our lives are uncharted territory; however it’s really WE who are the uncharted territory. The Torah laid out the ethical bare minimum of moral deeds and integrity of speech and action. It is a floor and not a ceiling. The gems of Torah: Love your neighbor as yourself, and the very love-centered later book of Deuteronomy, asks us to love Being, Love life, Love Existence, Love goodness and love God with all our heart and all our souls and all our might. These gems of Torah point the way toward which we actually find ourselves now travelling. It is prophecy, not only commandment. You Shall love our neighbor as yourself! It will happen. You shall love Being, Life, Existence, Goodness, and God with all your heart, soul, and might. These teachings foretell the shift of the moment and point the way toward a manner of thinking: believing that it’s all possible, which can enlarge our metaphoric tent to include everyone, help us care for and care about each other, preserve and care for the earth, and even know energetically and perceptually when another is hurting – when there is a world situation that needs our attention, and even when someone is thinking of us and is about to call our cellphone. Moses achieved this. Abraham Joshua Heschl said, When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. Once Moses merged with the mind and being of God, Moses could merge with and have empathy for everyone. I think there is a reason why we are called the Children of Israel. To God we are all still children, still a long way from the growth that being human hurries us to attain. As Moses merged with God, we can merge with the heart of God, becoming God on earth; not just God’s hands and feet, but God’s love, compassion, healing, blessing and generosity. One way to do a spiritual check is to ask yourself how big your tent really is. Who would you let into your circle of caring? Who would you let into your country? Into your community? Into your circle of friends, into your apartment, into your family, into your place of employment? Into your heart? Where do you stop? Each of us has a place where we pause or stop. Perhaps we can make our tent just a little bit larger, and perhaps events of these past six months have helped us to do that. All the spiritual teachers of today and many of the past speak about raising our energy or vibrating on a higher level. The Chassidic masters achieved this through joy, love, and ecstasy. With a change in energy comes not only expanded spiritual gifts but also reassurance, safety, protection, lack of fear, more love for ourselves and for others, more happiness, and much more joy. We can only find these gifts through seclusion, as we did in the ancient wilderness when we were so close to God. Henry David Thoreau wrote: “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” The shofar this year calls us to remember the possibilities that live within us, just waiting for us to realize them. The shofar calls to us, I love you! I respect you. Remember the magnificence within you and bring it forth. There is within you a fierce love and a passionate caring - I know because I put it there. You are about to manifest a greatness only before achieved by the few: by prophets and great teachers. It is now available to you, to ordinary people, and it is your birthright. Sleepers, awake! Awake to a new reality of a deeper healing, a deeper love, a deeper caring than you have ever known. Become inspired to a greater expression of your own humanity, a level of holiness you are only now capable of. The events of this year have nudged us in this direction. Rosh Hashanah is our opportunity to celebrate our ability to become, to be drawn to our yet unimagined growth, and to realize that we are truly on the path of our becoming.

The Evolution of Human Consciousness

One of my favorite metaphors is this: I am standing on the beach at the water’s edge, gazing out at the horizon. Those born after me, the young ones, are standing further out, well into the water. They see a farther horizon than I can see. Those who were born before me: the sages of the past, are standing way behind me, up on the dune. They cannot see as far a horizon as I can see. I am speaking about the evolution of human consciousness. This metaphor allows me to understand that those born after me are more spiritually evolved than I was when I was born. If I am fortunate and blessed, I will take a few more steps out into the water during my lifetime, and see a slightly farther horizon. It also allows me to know that the commentators of the past, the revered sages in Judaism, could not see as far a horizon as I can see. That does not make their commentaries wrong, or mine right, it means that all of the commentaries can exist together, enriching our understanding of Torah and bringing it into the 21st Century.

New Perspectives about the Garden of Eden

About two years ago, I looked at the translation of the Garden of Eden story, and discovered something which to me, was amazing. For reference, in 2011 The Jewish Week newspaper published my interpretation of the Garden of Eden story, in which Eve is the Heroine, being smart, brave, and intuitive. Here is the link: https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/the-gift-for-eating-forbidden-fruit/. Recently I translated this section. Here is my translation of the beginning of Chapter 3 in Genesis: 1. And the serpent was more awake than all the wildlife of the field that BEING GOD had made, and it said to the woman, “Did GOD even say you shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” 2. And the woman said to the serpent, “Of the fruits of any tree of the garden we may eat. 3. And from the fruits of the tree in the midst of the garden, GOD said, you shall not eat and you shall not touch them, lest you die.” 4. And the serpent said to the woman, “Die! you shall not die. 5. For GOD knows that on the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like GOD, knowing good and bad.” Usually, the serpent is said to be more cunning than any other animal. I saw that this line can be translated as: “ Now the serpent was more awake,” from the root, AR ער to be awake. The snake is a universal mystical symbol of transformation in many cultures. This translation bears out my interpretation that the serpent represents our intuition, and that the story teaches, among other things, that we should trust our intuition. I have translated God’s name, yud, hei, vav, hei, as BEING, a conjugation of the verb, to be. God’s name, Elohim, I have translated as God. Another more recent discovery, made during my Wednesday night Torah Study group, comes at the end of the Garden of Eden story. Here is my translation of Genesis 3:21: And BEING God made for Adam and his wife tunics of skin and clothed them. 22. And BEING God said, “Behold, the human has become as one among us, to know good and bad, and now lest he send forth his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat and live forever!” 23. And BEING God sent them out from the Garden of Eden to work the soil he had been taken from. What caught my eye was the Hebrew of “…to work the soil.” The word used is not ha’aretz, the land, but adamah, soil. Adamah might also be telling us to work on our ADAM, ourselves, our own humanity, and specifically, the feminine, intuitive or spiritual parts of ourselves. It might be telling us to serve - la’avod - humanity, or to work on our moral sense: the knowing of good from bad, which is one of the major points in the story and themes of the Torah.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Understanding The Ritual of the Red Cow in Chukat

As I was conducting a Friday evening Shabbat Service during the week of Korach and speaking about the portion, I said that every time the Israelites stray or exhibit a moral downfall, there is a ritual section allowing them to reconnect with God. After the sin of the Golden Calf (Parashat Ki Tissa), the section allowing us to reconnect is a moral section, known as the Thirteen Attributes of God. After the Sotah instructions in Naso, where there may be adultery on the part of a wife or there may be causeless jealousy on the part of a husband, the ritual section is about the Nazirite, a temporary nun or monk. When the Scouts return from scouting out the land of Canaan and give a negative report in Shelach Lecha, demoralizing the people who then refuse to enter and possess it, there are three ritual sections: libations to accompany offerings, a fire offering of a small piece of dough, known as Challah, which is one of the last remaining fire offerings that is still done today, and the commandment of Tzitzis, wearing fringes to help us remember who we really are and what we are capable of. In Korach, I said that there is Pidyon Haben, the redemption of the Firstborn.

When I said Pidyon Haben in that service, I was immediately dissatisfied with it. This was not a new ritual, it having been mentioned in Exodus 13:13, when the Israelites were leaving Egypt and again in Exodus 34:20, after the Golden Calf. So where was the ritual section for Korah, I asked myself? And the answer came immediately: it is the Ritual of the Red Cow in Chukat, the portion which directly follows Korach.

The ritual of the Red Cow is notorious for being difficult to interpret. Even King Solomon was to have said (Numbers Rabbah 19:3, commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:23) that it was beyond him. The chok, decree, of the Red Cow is the ritual section we expect after all the deaths in the portion of Korach. Now, all of a sudden, this ritual makes perfect sense because it deals so much with death. In Parashat Korach, he, Datan, Abiram, and also 250 leaders die. As reported in Torah, 14,700 more people die in a plague, bringing the total to almost 15,000 people. In this time of Coronavirus, so many people have died. We are mostly shielded from all this death, as the majority of people have died in hospitals. We don’t see corpses lying in our streets or on our sidewalks, but the Israelites did see the almost 15,000 corpses.

The people say to Moses and Aaron, “You have killed the people of God,” (Num. 17:6) and then, “Behold we perish, we are lost, all of us are lost. Everyone who approaches closer to the Tabernacle of God will die. Are we doomed to perish?” (Num.17:27-28) This wail of fear is reminiscent of the cry of the Egyptians in Bo (Ex. 12:33) of “We are all dying!” The Israelites have been traumatized by all the death around them. They need a way to reconnect with God and feel cleansed.

When someone wrongs us, they cannot look us in the eye. It seems as if that should be reversed – that if someone wrongs me, I should be angry at them and should not be able to look them in the eye. But what actually happens is that the person who wrongs another knows, at some level, that they have done wrong and cannot look the person they have wronged in the eye. The Israelites could not, figuratively speaking, look God in the eye, knowing they had done wrong. They needed a way to forgive themselves, to feel forgiven, cleansed, and renewed. They had been defiled on an inner level, by the horror of death, with no way to recover their inner goodness and feel blessed again by God.

The Ritual of the Red Cow directly addresses the effects of death on the living, and there are three instances in Chukat where people must be purified: 1. Anyone who touches a corpse (19:11) 2. A person in the tent or entering the tent of someone who has died (19:14) and 3. Anyone who touches a slain person, a bone, or grave (19:16). These are the people who have seen death and who need the Holy Water, the Water of Sprinkling.

The ashes of the Red Cow dissolved in spring (or living) water are sprinkled on the person who has come in contact with death, which purifies by calling forth our intrinsic ability to rise to a higher self. The Jewish Path to holiness is a setting apart something to make it special or Holy, and we, ourselves, are the ones who create the holiness. One who has touched ashes of the red cow is impure, and one who sprinkles is impure, because of all the contact with the ashes. This is not inconsistent if seen as a ritual to call forth the person’s holiness. The ashes themselves are from a dead body, which causes impurity.

In Chukat being sprinkled is very different from touching. The ritual has its own logic, which is that ashes from death cause impurity, but holy water set apart for purification and designated as holy, even containing some ash, perhaps something like activated charcoal, causes a person to FEEL cleansed and released from the death all around. This ritual changes death, which is something AW-Ful to a connection to the Divine, which is AWE-Some. In Torah, God always gives us a means to find our way back when we are lost, despairing, or have fallen down. We are given tools to continue to grow and choose inner goodness, connecting to our inner holiness. Torah sets out many pathways to reconnect with God. The ritual of the Red Cow is one of them.(July 2020)

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Life of Possibilities

YK 2019 (to be sung:)How do you like to go up in a swing, Up in the air so blue? Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing Ever a child can do! Up in the air and over the wall, Till I can see so wide, Rivers and trees and cattle and all Over the countryside— Till I look down on the garden green, Down on the roof so brown—Up in the air I go flying again, Up in the air and down! These words were written by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) {A Child’s Garden Of Verses}// When we were young we loved the swings. The feeling of freedom, of flying, of going fast, beyond the physical constraints of walking on the earth. And when we were a little older, some of us loved roller coasters and the thrill of amusement park rides. Still later, some yearned for extreme sports like bungee jumping, skydiving, or even just driving a car very fast. I think music and dance can often contact that same part of us. There is something in us which loves transcending the physical. And this is partly what Yom Kippur is about. For one day, we abandon eating and drinking to become more like the angels, more spiritual than physical.

In our Torah portion for today Aaron, the high priest or Kohen Gadol, receives instructions. He must wash himself, and Yom Kippur can be seen as our spiritual mikveh, a chance to purify and refine ourselves, and even to be reborn. Then he was to clothe himself all in white, in a sacred linen tunic, linen breeches, a linen sash and a linen turban: in sacred vestments. There is a famous midrash about clothing written by an ancient, First Century scribe, Rabbi Meir. When Rabbi Meir was writing a Torah, he came to the section in Genesis, in B’reisheet (3:21), the first Torah portion, where we are told the story of the Garden of Eden. When Rabbi Meir got to the verse, And God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin and God clothed them, Rabbi Meir didn’t write the word skin, He changed one letter – an ayin – into an aleph, which are the two silent letters in the Hebrew Alphabet. By changing an ayin into an aleph, Rabbi Meir wrote, Garments of Light. God made for the man and woman garments of light and God clothed them. There is more truth to this midrash than we often understand. We are beings of light. There is another story about this, one that Rabbi Gelberman told, which is that the original light of the first day of creation was to dazzling for human beings, so God hid that light. And where did God hide the light? God hid it where no one would think to look – inside of us. We are the light, or rather, the light is part of us. This is more than metaphor. The scientist Fritz Albert Popp has shown that every cell in our body emits light in addition to electrical and magnetic energy. (The Field, McTaggart). There are some people who can see auras, the electromagnetic field around each living thing. Now, before you think that this is getting too weird for you, here is a way of view this topic. Most of us have or have had a TV set. We know that a TV set can show different programs depending on how it’s tuned. The TV is the hardware. We also know that the TV programs are not IN the TV. They are broadcast from outside the set and the TV is merely the receiver. If our TV breaks down, we can buy a new one. Our bodies are like the TV set and our electromagnetic energy, which is not merely inside of us, but is also surrounding us, is like the TV programing, allowing us to think and feel, and live. A Dr. Bruce Lipton wrote in his book, The Biology of Belief, describing his spiritual epiphany, he discovered about his body, I’m not in there! I am not my body, I’m not really even inside of my body. I’m both in it and outside of it. In other words, My body isn’t me.

Abraham Joshua Heschl, in his book, Man Is Not Alone, wrote: What we are, we cannot say: what we become, we cannot grasp. The self is something transcendent in disguise. We are energetic beings: being of light. This is the true self. This is what the Torah refers to when it says about the death of Rachel: her soul departed, for she died. The true self is other than our bodies. The true self is the energetic field around our bodies. And we are experts at interpreting each other’s fields. Do you get what some call a good vibe around children or someone who is happy? Can you sense when someone is angry or sad, before they say anything, just by being close to them? When you enter a room, can you read the emotions of the people in it? Do you know how people feel about you? If a person says they like you and they smile buy they really don’t like you, how do you know that? Scientists now know that atoms are mostly empty space, filled with energy fields. We are energetic beings living in a world of energy and our energy extends into each other. In our scientific, analytical time, we have given up the awareness of our true energetic nature for the compromise of a solid physical universe, as that verse in the Morning Blessings says, that God: Rokah ha-aretz al ha-mayim, spread the earth over the waters, giving us a firm place to stand. This morning blessing tells us that our physical realty is overlaid upon the deeper energetic reality. So what difference does this make? And how should we live in the world with this understanding? At the very least, this knowledge expands our ideas about who we are. It is only our beliefs and emotions which hold us back from our becoming. Those beliefs and emotions, as I have said before, are the walls we construct for ourselves which help us feel secure, but which may not ultimately be serving our growth and expansion. A greater conception of who we are elevates and liberates us. When we feel that elevation, we are more loving and caring about others. We are able to live so as to not disappoint ourselves, honoring ourselves, able to honor others, and honor life. To take one spiritual baby step,

I have a challenge for you. The challenge is, to change one belief about yourself. It can be any belief, like – I’m not a good sleeper, or I need certain types of food at certain times, or any self-limiting belief like, I’m clumsy. I challenge you to change one belief. That change can open the door into giving up the entirely logical life for a life of possibilities. Emily Dickinson wrote a poem that I love: I dwell in Possibility – A fairer House than Prose – More numerous of Windows – Superior – for Doors – Of Chambers as the Cedars – Impregnable of eye – And for an everlasting Roof, The Gambrels of the Sky – Of Visitors – the fairest – For Occupation – This – The spreading wide my narrow Hands To gather Paradise. Living a life of possibilities means that we let God and life show us the way to go. We don’t force things or people, but allow our lives and ourselves to unfold, with faith and trust that we are being led toward goodness, flowing with that guidance and not fighting against it. Rabbi Elimelech of Lizenhsk, said, all things move toward goodness. We can make a commitment with ourselves to affirm once a day our non-physical, energetic nature, perhaps doing this by sensing the energy around you, being in tune with its higher, non-physical frequency, and allowing you to walk a little taller as you stroll down the sidewalk. This knowledge helps us to appreciate the great gifts of the physical life and to know that the physical life is only an accommodation and not the entire reality. This knowledge allows us to do what the 20th Century Jewish philosopher Martin Buber suggested was our purpose on earth: to Hallow life – to make life holy. This leads us to ask and be interactive with all the strangeness and wonder of a non-physical existence, locating our true self and appreciating that self, and how magnificent are the gifts of life and growth and understanding, reveling in an awareness of how wondrous life is.

When we are assembled here on Yom Kippur like the angels, less physical beings and more spiritual beings, we have a unique opportunity: the ability to align with our energetic nature and become more of who we really are, knowing that our personalities are like garments of skin that we wear. Our true realities are our garments of light: transcendent and miraculous, and as Rabbi Heschel said, waiting to bloom and flourish. What life are you wearing as your garment? Who would you be if you could be anyone? Who would you be if you really knew the nobility of who you actually are and the great power and wisdom that has been hidden within us? The swings, the amusement park rides, extreme sports are a memory of existing as a purely energetic being. The researchers Brymer and Schweitzer, after interviewing athletes who engage in extreme sports reported that “extreme sports helped participants feel closer to nature, more self-aware, at peace and even transcendent. There’s an ineffable aspect people find very difficult to describe,” Brymer says, “a feeling of coming home.” Our tradition says this too: Ner Adonai nishmat adam, the lamp of God is the soul of man, and a part of the Kol Nidre liturgy: Or zarua la-tzaddik, light is sown for the righteous. (Prov. 20:27 & Psalm 97:11). Now you know more fully who you are, the person who you always suspected you might be. May this knowing be the beginning of a change in your relationship to yourself, to those you know, and to those who share this wondrous world with us. There was a Daoist sage whose handprint can still be seen in a solid rock. We live in a world of light, of Divine energy, and of possibilities. It is how we look upon ourselves and the world which either limit or expand those possibilities. We are being of light. May your world expand in marvelous ways in this New Year.

Manifesting Through Love

Well, it’s been quite a year, but not in the way you think. The political situation aside, through several authors and teachers I have learned some amazing facts. I say, facts, because initially this learning has come from a book called, The Field, by Lynn McTaggart, a science writer. No please stay with me, because this is important and it relates to you. How many of you have ever heard of the Uncertainty Principle in quantum physics? The scientists Max Planck, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg made discoveries in the early 20th Century which informed us that you can’t predict where an electron is in an atom. Einstein proved that matter and energy can be converted into each other. Another way to express Einstein’s discovery is that waves of light become particles in our physical world and particles can become energy, or waves of light. Consider the following experiment. A scientist named Robert Jahn, educated at Princeton, who also taught there, made something called an REG machine or Random Event Generator. He and his colleagues collected reams of data from many human studies concerning our ability to influence this machine. Then a French scientist named Rene Peoc’h took one of Jahn’s machines and imprinted baby chicks on it as if the machine were their mother. The machine was set to wander around a room randomly. He found that the desire of the chicks to be near their mother changed the path of the machine so that it approached them more often than randomly. This has been called the Observer Effect: that our minds and hearts have the power to change reality.

What was going on here and how does this relate to us? McTaggart’s book documents hundreds of double blind peer reviewed experiments, the gold standard in science, which taken together show two things: #1) the model of classical physics, Newtonian physics is wrong or perhaps in complete. And #2) The Uncertainty principle of the atomic world operates not just on the atomic level, but in our bodies and our physical world. There is now scientific proof that we live in a field of energy which apparently has intelligence and heart or feeling, and further, that we have the power to influence that field. In reading about this research, one can even go so far to see in it a scientific proof for the existence of God. To me, this is all amazing to know, but how does it affect us? In investigating healing techniques for my husband Hal, who has mental and physical challenges from cardiac arrest a number of years ago, I was gradually led to some contemporary scientists whose work I’ve read or whom I’ve listened to on the internet. The scientists include Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Belief, Joe Dispenza, author of You are the Placebo, and Gregg Braden, author of The Divine Matrix. These authors have rediscovered the principles of affecting the Field in a purposeful way, for healing and for peace. I’ve been teaching about some of these principles for years. I’ve said that Love is the spiritual currency of the Universe; that we are all One, that we are meant to live both in the physical Universe AND the spiritual universe; that God appears to every person according to their experience and belief, and that the coming age will produce a synthesis of science and spirituality. However, it was not until recently, through the work of these and other contemporary teachers, that I’ve grasped the missing pieces in my understanding.

We can find the missing pieces in Torah, if we know what we are looking for. In Deuteronomy, what I call the Love Book, because there is an emphasis on Loving God. Love is mentioned 15X in Deuteronomy and heart is mentioned 48X. It says (if) you will seek God your God and you will find God if you search with all your heart and all your soul (4:29). The same portion, Va Etchanan contains the Shema, the prayer of the Oneness of all being and also V’ahavta, begging us to love. These verses show us the key that unlocks heaven’s doors: emotion, love, feeling, and compassion. The second paragraph of the Shema in the next Torah portion clearly tells us that through love and service we can influence physical reality. Where am I going with this? The energy field is influenced through thought; we know that. What we don’t realize is that the thought has to be powered by the emotion. It is the unity of thought and emotion that produces a result. Love, gratitude, and joy supply the current which allows us to communicate with the Field; to communicate effectively with God, if you will. The current is both electrical and magnetic. Studies have shown that the brain sends out weak electrical and magnetic waves. Heart energy is 100x more powerful electrically and 5,000X more powerful magnetically than the brain’s energy. This is why love energy paired with thought is so important. King David said this too. We affirm it in the Ashrei prayer: God is near to all those who call upon God, to all who call upon God in truth. The Eternal will fulfil the desire of those who fear him; he also will hear their cry, and will save them. God preserves all those who love him…. Zechariah said: not by might nor by power but by my spirit, says the Holy One. And there’s more to understand: We’ve been taught that biology is our destiny, that genes determine our health and much more. However the science now shows that belief and expectation direct gene expression. It sounds like magic, but it has been proven to be true. This is also the Observer effect – what we expect to see is what manifests in our lives. Change our perspective, change our expectations, and supply the power of emotion and we change ourselves and change the nature of our reality.

The Kabbalistic masters of the past understood many of these principles without being able to quote the science behind them. There are kabbalistic writings from Roman times among the Essenes, a sect of Judaism which is no more, writings from the 16th Century rabbis of Safed, the circle of Rabbi Isaac Luria, and also most importantly and readily available, the 18th & 19th Century teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the many Chasidic rebbes who taught and extended his wisdom. The Baal Shem Tov taught us to live joyously. He taught that everything is God. And he taught about the power of emotion: One Teaching: A student of The Baal Shem Tov became distraught over losing the kavanot, the secret meditations before the blowing of the shofar on RH and burst in tears. The Baal Shem said: There are many halls in the King’s palace and intricate keys open the doors, but the axe is stronger than all of these and no bolt can withstand it. Pure emotion unlocks heaven’s doors. The Chassidic masters could change the nature of reality, averting severe decrees against individuals and communities and in the case of the Baal Shem Tov, arrive at a distant location several days journey away by coach, overnight, even taking his students with him in the coach. A slightly later master, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhenk was troubled by his ability to alter the physical universe and wrote about it a number of times in his work, Noam Elimelech. He said, God…created the Tzaddik who can nullify and annul God’s decrees. How can he annul decrees that have already been determined and decided in the higher worlds? Now you may say that the stories of the Chassidic masters cannot be proven, and yet, like God speaking to the prophets, there are too many instances of what some may call miracles to discount them all. Also, the contemporary scientists have proof that alterations in our physical reality can be accomplished by ordinary people. Think about the chicks: If chicks can change the nature of reality, one researcher said, just think what human beings can do.

Meditative states amplify our ability to remain in an elevated emotional state, in our subconscious, where change can more effectively occur. Repetition is also a way to build a new habit of being, into our lives. There are projects in place to heal people and also bring more peace and harmony into the world through group intention and elevated emotions. Negative emotions and fixed expectations limit us, and make us feel that we are victims and not creators of our reality. God has shown us the way to a true renewal – through morality, integrity, love, joy, gratitude, and an unlimited imagination. As I have taught, we have a vision of peace and harmony that we and God have dreamed of together. How will we get there? It is not the world that will change. WE will change – change our beliefs, our thoughts, and our emotions and the world will change. Rabbi Gelberman taught that LIFE means to be loving unconditionally, to be inspiring unconditionally, to be forgiving unconditionally and to be excited unconditionally; and he was a Satmar, the inheritor of the Chassidic tradition. If we are open minded and open hearted we can be God’s partners in creating a marvelous future. God as created the world this way. A new reality is already upon us and now we have the understanding to be creators in it. Isn’t life grand?