The day started in meditation. Our practice was about holding in awareness all of our sensations, emotions and thoughts with love and compassion; to open our heart to what is, to fully receive the moment without resisting it or wanting it to be any different than it is. To receive in Hebrew is Kabbalah. This morning was about practicing Kabbalah, practicing simply receiving, being unreservedly available to what is.
The meditation set the tone for our visit of the Kabbalistic town of Tsfat in the northern part of Israel; the town that harbored some of the greatest Jewish mystics that ever walked the earth. There are a few places in the world that are filled with soul energies like Tsfat is. One of the four holy cities of Israel, Tsfat is associated with the element of air; when Hebron is associated with earth (since our three patriarchs are buried there) Tiberias with water (being on a lake) and Jerusalem with fire (being the place where the Temple’s sacrificial altar was.) Tsfat is air because, geographically, it is the highest town in Israel; and when we drove in, it was still in the clouds. Tsfat is also the mystical soul of Israel when “air” in Hebrew is also ruach which means “spirit.”
We walked through the cobblestone streets listening to the voices of the children studying in the Yeshivas nearby. They are loud! They are beautiful! We came around a little alley and walked into the synagogue of Rabbi Isaac Luria’s community. I am still pinching myself writing these words. We walked into Rabbi Isaac Luria’s synagogue! If you don’t know who that is let me just say in three words that he is the rabbi who transformed Kabbalah into a practice that most anyone could embrace. He revolutionized Kabbalah in the 16th century to the point that we owe to him the Kabbalah practices we know today. And here we were, in this most stunningly decorated blue synagogue with stained windows that have the kabbalistic Tree of Life on them. We shared in song and meditation, we entered into prayer, and I read this passage from A.J. Heschel (in The Quest for God):
To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings… Prayer is our humble answer to the unconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live. Who is worthy to be present at the constant unfolding of time? Amidst the meditation of mountains, the humility of flowers… the clouds that die constantly for the sake of His glory… suddenly we feel ashamed of our clashes and complaints in the face of the tacit glory in nature. It is so embarrassing to live! How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.
This is what, for me, this journey through Israel has been about so far: witnessing the wonder.