Archives for July 2013

Torah Reflections July 14 – 20, 2013

Va-Et’chanan

Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

Because Love is Our Natural State  

                      

This week we find in our parashah the words that are at the center of our daily worship: the Sh’ma, and the first verses of the V’ahavta. While the Sh’ma is calling us to “Listen!” and know the One that is every one, the V’ahavta is giving us the key to opening ourselves to this realization. “Love!” instructs us the V’ahavta;

Love the One in all Its manifestations with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your energy!” [Deut. 6:5]

The rabbis insist that though the verse might sound like a commandment, love cannot be commanded, for it has to do with human nature. And that is exactly the point, the rabbis continue: to love the One in all Its manifestations is the natural inclination of every being. It is not something we need to do, something to struggle for. Rather, it is about remembering our True Nature; peeling off the Klippot – the husks – of ego around our heart that have distorted our perception of reality, and simply letting the natural flow of love at the center of our being take us over. Because love is our natural state. [Read more…]

Torah Reflections July 7 – 13

Devarim

Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22

The Power of Spiritual Transmission                       

There is a powerful story that comes to us from the Native American tradition. It used to be that after the fall hunting season, the tribe would spend the winter months working with the skins of the animals they had killed in order to make clothing, covers and other artifacts. In those days, the tools they used to prepare the skins were mostly sharpened stones. This meant that they had to work on these skins month after month through the winter and early spring. The entire village would participate, young and old, sitting together through the darkest months, working slowly with those sharpened stones while listening to the ancient stories of the elders. Every year that passed, the same old stories, the same old foundational tribal myths were told, the deepest spiritual teachings shared. Eventually, the white man came and some of the skins were traded for knives. Knives were more efficient. There was no need to work as hard on each skin. With knives the work could be done in a matter of days instead of months. Productivity had never been higher, but now the stories and the teachings were lost. In time, the tribe lost not only the roots of its identity, but the spiritual wisdom gleaned from generations of transmission.

The challenges that Native tribes face are akin to ours. How does one stay connected to what’s important about who one is and what one is about, when central rituals, places, land, communities, etc… shift; when modern life destabilizes and decentralizes what was once central? This week’s Torah portion is the first in the Book of Deuteronomy. It begins with

Eleh HaDevarim – These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel...” [Deut.1:1]

In this fifth Book of the Torah, Moses retells the foundational myth of the Hebrew people. This is our story; the story to be told year after year, generation after generation, Shabbat after Shabbat. “These are the words,” the words of Moses that have reached us across thousands of years through the darkest times and the brightest days of our people. And so we gather together to hear the tales that are the seeds of our unique identity, to delight in the depth of spiritual wisdom harvested from twenty five hundred years of transmission. Our Torah was never meant to be read as a history book or a novel, but rather as an unfolding teaching. [Read more…]

Torah Reflections June 31 – July 5, 2013

Mattot-Masei

Numbers 30:2 – 36:13

 

First, Break All Your Vows                      

 

Yom Kippur is fast approaching. Rabbis don’t need to look at the calendar to figure this out. We know. This is Mattot-Masei, the weekly Torah portion that is ten weeks away from Yom Kippur, and whose opening verses allude to the “Kol Nidrei,” as they are about the annulment of vows.

Torah, we are reminded as we read these first challenging verses, is an ancient text edited some 2500 years ago from texts even more ancient. It is born out of a deeply patriarchal clan-based and male-dominated hierarchical society whose worldview and relationship with the Divine are unavoidably reflected in its narrative. This week’s portion brings up, for example, the power a father had to annul any vow his daughter would make while still part of his household. Once married, however, this power reverted to her husband with respects to both the vows she made while still single or since she became his wife. The rabbis of the Talmud remind us that a Jewish marriage was in their days — and in some circles today as well — a two-step process that took place at two different times. First was Kiddushin (betrothal) whereby one committed oneself to an exclusive relationship with their beloved; followed weeks or months later by Nissuin (marriage proper) where the two were to “become one flesh.” [Gen. 2:24] The rabbis explain that it was only during the period of betrothal that, retroactively, the husband had the power to annul the vows his wife made while single. After Nissuin, he no longer could. During the time of betrothal the husband-to-be had to act in conjunction with the father of the bride to annul the vows she had made while single. The husband didn’t have this retroactive power in and of himself. [Read more…]