Sunday, November 29, 2009

The waiting room of prayer

 Photo courtesy of Paul Denton Crocker

Gikatilla brings up a very interesting idea. Malchut is the gateway to the spherot. It's intimately connected with yesod. All of the higher spherot feed down into yesod which joins with malchut. Malchut, though it it thought of us as empty on it's own, distributes the shefa to the world that it received from Yesod.

The process also works in reverse. When a person prays by themselves, the prayers go up through malchut into Yesod. Yesod has gatekeepers who evaluate the prayers to see if they are worthy of going up to God. How are they evaluated? If the prayers are done with the proper intention and feeling. And if they are not deemed worthy? Then they go to the waiting room. The prayers are not thrown out or discarded, but placed in a special place, a Geniza,  a waiting room. When the person prays with proper intention the gates of prayer open and all of the prayers that have been in the waiting room get brought before God.

He also writes that the gates of heaven are always open to tears. When a person cries while praying, or prays while crying, the prayers go straight up to Heaven and are not held up by the gatekeeper in Yesod. Likewise, when we pray in a minyan, then the prayers go upwards. The gathering calls the shechina so the prayers are automatically thought to be accepted.

This is a fascinating idea.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Repairing the Intentionally Broken world

 R' Chayim Moshe Luzzato writes:

כלל ראשון: כוונת הבריאת

מה שנודע לנו מכוונת המאציל ב"ה בזה, הוא, כי ברצותו להטיב רצה להמציא נמצאים שיקבלו טובו. וכדי שיהיה הטוב שלם, צריך שיקבלוהו בזכות ולא בצדקה, שלא יהא הבושת פוגמו, כאוכל את שאינו שלו. וכדי שיוכלו לזכות, המציא מציאות אחד שיהיה צריך אליהם להתקן, מה שאינו צריך הוא, ובתקנם אותו – יזכו. והוא מציאות הספירות, כי הם מציאות אחד כמו מחברת צינורות, שבעמדה על תיקונה כראוי, ממשיכים השפע מן המאציל אל המתקנה. וזהו זכותו – שהקים חפץ המאציל ב"ה, שחפץ שיקבלו נמצאיו את טובו.

כללי פתחי חכמה ודעה
רמח"ל – חיים לוזאטו

What we know of the intention of the creator, blessed be he, is this: in his will to give goodness, he created the world in order for it to receive his goodness. In order for the created to receive the full measure of his goodness, they had to receive it on their own merits and not by means of charity, so shame will not blemish the receiving, like eating food that belongs to someone else. In order to be worthy, the creator created a world that needs repair, but it is not for God that we do the repair. In doing the repair, the created become worthy. The world that needs repair is the world of the sephirot. They are one system like the joints of a pipe, which, when repaired, draw down the shefa from the creator to the repaired (person). And this is what is meant by merit, that he fulfils the will of the creator, blessed be he, that desires that his creations receive his goodness.

- RaMCHaL - Moshe Chayim Luzzato - Principle Elements.

The simple interpretation of this text is that God wants to give us his goodness, but he requires our personal effort to make ourselves worthy. He created the world "broken" in order to give us the necessary challenges for us to earn the merit of his goodness. Essentially life is one big test, and if we pass, we enjoy God's goodness. If we don't do the repair, we presumably are cut off from God's bounty.

I really like that he frames the issue in terms of personal effort. It's not a gift from above or an innate talent, but our personal actions that determine our connection to God. God is always waiting there for us, but it's up to us to make ourselves worthy of the connection. In my mind, this is what Tikkunei Avon (repair of sins) are all about. When we first start to do spiritual work, the first step is to begin working on our own blockages between us and God. It's a continual process, something that we are never done with, and requires constant care and attention. This process is both internal and on our relationships in the world.

This worldview also gives us limitless possibilities. Every difficulty is an opportunity for a repair, and there certainly is no shortage of difficulties in this world. It also shows us how to have mercy on ourselves. If we come up short or miss the mark on today's repair, there will be another chance tomorrow. When the yetzer harah asks us to beat ourselves up for our failures, we just have to wait until the next test when we can try again.

One note on the translation: the word for goodness is הטיב or טוב which is accurately translated as good, but in this context, it could also mean Love. When I first read this passage, I thought that his worldview required an enormous amount of faith to believe that the world was intentionally broken just to give us an opportunity to be fix it. It means that the problems of the world are inherent in it's basic structure and can never be truly solved.

But it also means that God wants us to succeed because someone who loves us doesn't give us a challenge which is beyond our capabilities. I think my first impression was completely backwards: this worldview shows how much faith God has in us. He wants us to do the work on ourselves so that we can bring God's love into the world, which, as far as I'm concerned is the point of it all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cain wasn't Abel

Photo from Okinawa Soba

I've recently started studying with a new Hevruta who also has a shamanic background and is a cohen. We've decided to try to explore the practice of sacrifice in Judaism and to see if we can apply what we learn to our practices. We're beginning with the story of Cain and Hevel (Abel), who gave the first offerings to God. The story can be found in Genesis 4:1-16.

The names are very significant: Cain, קין, means acquired, and Hevel, הבל, means vapor or breath. Cain is the farmer, the worker of the land, which is cursed at this point, and Hevel is a shepherd. These facts set up the dichotomy between the two: Cain is a person who must always be busy tending to his fields and to his crops. The life of the shepherd is very different. It's mostly a quiet, meditative life. Cain is very tied to the physicality of the land, while Hevel is able to concentrate on more spiritual pursuits.

In my paradigm, Cain's gift is doing: working and producing. He is most connected to God when he is farming. Hevel's gift is being: meditation and quiet observation of the world. He is most connected to God during "spiritual" times and rituals.

Interestingly, it is Cain who first makes the offering of first fruits to God, and only then does Hevel follow. The word for offering is מנחה (minchah) which derives from לנוח (to rest), and in this form, can mean "to cause to rest".  The purpose of the sacrifice was to cause Cain to be able to rest from his work. My understanding of this is based on my experience when I connect to the souls. I feel very peaceful and relaxed, even to the point where I forget my words or my questions (if I had any). Perhaps Cain was seeking a similar experience.

But God accepts Hevel's sacrifice and Hevel himself, but not to Cain or his sacrifice. The word for accept is וישא, which means to Gaze (steadily with interest) or to turn towards and pay heed. Hevel sacrifices and connects to God. Cain sacrifices and neither he nor his sacrifice connect to God.

In our reading, this makes perfect sense. Hevel connects to God through ritual and through spiritual means. Cain connects through working and producing. When Cain sacrifices, he is trying to connect to God through Hevel's gift, which, of course, doesn't work for him.

It's noteworthy that Cain figured out a good way for Hevel to connect. It's a reminder not to spend all our time with people who have similar gifts to ourselves. Often, the outside perspective enables another to see how we can use our gifts more effectively. It's also important to live in community so that when we are faced with a task that is outside of our power, we have others who can do it for us. Cain's response might have been to ask Hevel to do the sacrifices for him. In turn, Hevel would be probably be unable to do tasks that would require him to be fully in the physical world and would need Cain to do them for him.

And here is where Cain goes astray. He gets angry and disappointed that God wouldn't gaze upon him when he sacrificed, and God chastises him for it. God tells him that "if he does right, there is uplift" (literally exalted and majesty). Doing right, in my reading, is doing and living according to his gift. But God continues, "if you do not do right, Sin crouches at the door". Any time that we try to live according to someone else's gift, we run into trouble.

Cain then kills Hevel. God asks Cain "where is your brother Hevel?", and we get the famous reply "Am I my brother's keeper?" God replies that "Your brother's blood cries out to my from the ground (אדמה)." The ground was Cain's source of power. He was a farmer who derived his power, and connected to God, through working the land. But the murder of his brother poisoned Cain's power so that he would never be able to access it again.

God's punishment to Cain was twofold: destroying Cain's connection with his power and cursing him to Hevel's power which would never really work for him. God tells Cain directly that if "you till the soil, it shall no longer yield it's strength to you." He then curses Cain has to wander the land, which is what a shepherd does, not what a farmer does.

Cain replies "My punishment is to great to bear. Since you have banished me this day from the soil and your presence will be hidden from me..." Cain is aware that he can no longer connect to God as he has been separated from his gift. Cain continues "...anyone who meets me may kill me." God then puts a mark on Cain's forehead as protection.

Why does Cain need protection only at this point? My approach to spiritual protection has always been awareness, love, dealing with fear, and staying within your power. It's a much longer discussion, but my view is that when Cain was no longer in his power, he was vulnerable. Hevel had no trouble wandering the land and living. Cain is unable to do that.

There are some people who naturally avoid fights, and some people who can't seem to go anywhere without having someone start a fight with them. Hevel might have been a person who did not naturally get into fights or quarrels, but Cain, being more in the world, might have. Now Cain is wandering the world with Hevel's power but people are still fighting with him, and he now has no defenses so he needs God's protection.

This story sets up one of the basic polarities in Human existence: those who are more in the physical world and those who are more in the spiritual world. Each has a unique gift that enables them to connect to God and only run into trouble when they try to be someone who they are not.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The soul's balloon

Occasionally when I treat people, it feels as if their soul is empty. When I reach out to connect to them spiritually, I can't feel anything. It almost feels like I'm seeing a shadow of the person: they are physically there, but spiritually it feels like there's nothing there.

I used to think that their soul had left their body for some reason. but it was rightly pointed out to me recently that if their soul wasn't present in their body, they'd be dead.

One possible explanation could be based on the Jewish idea of their being five levels to the soul. The lower soul could be present, but the upper could be missing. But my perception is not of a cup half full, but of the cup being completely empty.

In Hevruta today I came to an explanation that feels more accurate. The soul is like a balloon. There are times when it is empty and times when it is full. When it's empty, it may be barely visible and offers no resistance to our touch, but when it's full, it's clearly visible and touchable. So what fills it? The breath of God. When God created Adam, he animated him by breathing life into him.

So my experience is that the client's soul is empty, and after the treatment, if it's been a good treatment, then their soul is full of God's breath (רוח הקודש). Illness in this way of thinking is caused by an empty soul, and health by a full one.

I'm curious to hear from my readers: Does this match your experience? Does this explanation help you to heal better?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Standing in Fear

Photo courtesy of Krembo1

The Amidah is a very powerful prayer. As I've written about before, it has become a way for me to check in with my fear every day.

The Amidah begins with three prayers of invocation or supplication where we call the souls of our ancestors. The first is a direct calling of our fore-fathers and fore-mothers (if you choose to do it that way, which I recommend). The next is the prayer for the reviving the dead, which calls in all of our ancestral souls, and the last is a the prayer of holiness to proclaim that we are now in a holy space.

The Amidah continues with what is traditionally called the Bakashot, or requests. I slightly alter my perspective on this section my fears. Each of these requests represents or stems from a fear within each Jew that we wish assuaged. For me, these become reminders of the fears within me that I need to visit everyday. As I read through the Amidah, I pause after each blessing and touch the fear before continuing on to the next.

Some days, certain fears will hold a lot of power and certain fears will feel neutral. I especially look for fears which feel numb to me - these are the ones I need to spend the most time with until I can feel what's going on underneath.

The last section of the Amidah is for thanking God. In this section, I surround myself with love and send it to any lingering fears. This section begins with the avodah, or service, which implores God to accept our prayers instead of a sacrifice. I suspect that this allows us to call some of the spiritual power of a the sacrifices into the power of our prayers, but this will require further meditation.

I suggest the everyone study the prayers themselves and come up with their own understanding of the fear reminders. Each of the prayers speak to every one of us in a different way, so it's important to find yours. What follows is my understanding of them at this point in time
  • Binah - Fear of not being smart or clever enough.
  • Tsuvah -Fear that I've succomb to my yetzer haRah, my urge to self-destruction.
  • Slicha - Fear of having done something unforgivable
  • Geulah - Fear that things will never get better both personally, nationally, and environmentally
  • Refuah - Fear that I'll be sick
  • Birkat Hashanim - Fear that I'll be poor and unable to pay the bills or buy food.
  • Kibbutz Galuyot - Fear that I won't have a home and I will wander and never feel at home.
  • Din - Fear that there will be no justice in the world or in my life
  • Birkat Haminim - Fear of betrayal
  • Tzaddikim - Fear that the wise in my life will be removed. And that the wise among our nation will be taken from us.
  • Binyan Jerusalem - The cossack fear that Jerusalem will again be taken from us as a result of our own actions.
  • Malcut Beit David - This is unclear to me. Probably a fear that we will never be worthy of bringing the messiah.
  • Kabbalat Tefillah -Fear that we can't connect to God. Fear is one of the main blocks that prevents a person from connecting to God, so this sums up the others fears.