Archives for November 2013

Torah Reflections – November 17 – 23, 2013

Vayeishev

Genesis 37:1 – 40:23

Embracing Imbalance                                
 

Vayeishev, the name and first word of this week’s Torah portion has caused much ink to be spilled. Vayeishev is translated in English to mean: “And he settled,” referring to Jacob finally settling down “in the land of his father’s sojourning, in the land of Canaan.” [Gen. 37:1] Our sages tell us that Jacob believed God’s blessing to Abraham had now been fulfilled through his life and in his settling down in Canaan: the Promised Land. After all — doing his own math — between his grandfather’s, his father’s and his own “sojourning,” plus his years of slavery and affliction under Laban,  Jacob wants to believe that, give or take a couple hundred years, the “metaphor” of God’s foreseeing 400 years of slavery in Egypt was now interpretatively fulfilled. “Now,” writes Avivah G. Zornberg (The Beginning of Desire, p.245) “Jacob’s mind was settled: things seemed to fall into proper perspective, a kind of clarity and coherence invested in the narrative of family history, as he set himself to read it.” [Read more…]

Torah Reflections – November 10 – 16th, 2013

Vayish’lach

Genesis 32:4 – 36:43

Awakening Beyond Silence                               

One of the first revelations that meditation allows is one’s encounter with the unbelievable noise which lies within us, right behind our closed eyes. As if by magic, as soon as our eyes are closed an onslaught of thoughts comes rushing in. As our practice progresses, however, we realize that the thoughts themselves are always there, endlessly parading in our consciousness. But our inward meditative gazing makes us increasingly aware of their loud incessant presence. One specific exercise that any meditator can do is to journal one’s meditative experience, try and classify the types of thoughts arising in awareness through each meditation in order to get a sense of the different patterns of one’s conditioned mind. Some report that most of their thinking is spent in rehearsing conversations for example; past conversations or anticipated conversations. Personally, I find that my mind is most interested in planning and organizing.

The beginning of this week’s Torah portion reminded me of my meditations. The story begins as Jacob is now on his way back from his 20 year exile in Haran, hours before his feared confrontation with his brother Esau who had vowed to kill him. So striking is the resemblance to my inner states of consciousness while meditating that I suspect that the first 30 verses of this Torah portion (Gen. 32:4-33) are but the transcript of Jacob’s meditation journal. [Read more…]

Torah Reflections – Nov. 3 – 9th, 2013

Vayeitzei

Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

God Was in This Place

There is one verse in this week’s Torah portion which encompasses the entirety of the Kabbalistic endeavor:

Waking from his sleep, Jacob said, ‘Truly, the Eternal is in this place, and I did not know it!’” [Gen. 28:16]

The Hebrew uses a word here which is rarely translated: the word “yesh“– yesh YHVH bamakom hazeh. “Yesh” is ignored because it is mostly thought of to mean “there is;” which, if kept, makes the English phrasing awkward: “there is the Eternal in this place.” But that’s because most translators aren’t Kabbalists. “Yesh” also means: “somethingness, being, or essence.” In other words, one could translate this verse to mean: “Waking from his sleep, Jacob said, ‘Truly, the Essence of YHVH is in this place, and I did not know it.'” This one verse describes the unique path that is Judaism in general, but Jewish mysticism in particular. Ours is a path that seeks to awaken to “the Essence of YHVH in this place,” in this world — to realize the Divine Presence filling all of Creation yet transcending all of Creation. [Read more…]

Torah Reflections – Oct. 27 – Nov. 2, 2013

Toledot

Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

Breaking Free From The Great Teachers                             

At the opening of our Torah portion, we find Isaac pleading with God, in the presence of his barren wife Rebecca, that she might — after twenty years of waiting — finally bear a child. God hears Isaac’s plea. Rebecca becomes pregnant. The next verse in Torah warrants our attention, not so much for what it says, but for what generations of rabbis have come to make it mean. In fact, it has become quasi-impossible for us to read these words just as they are, without the overlay of rabbinic interpretation (read: “Rashi”). Not surprisingly, the translations we find today are skewed to reflect this accepted interpretation.

In Rashi’s view the pregnancy doesn’t go well. Rebecca is carrying twins and experiences much pain because they — Esau and Jacob — are wrestling in her womb. The idol worshiper Esau is wrestling his Torah-loving brother Jacob in-utero, over who will be the firstborn son and is to inherit Abraham’s blessing. Based on Rashi, translators have read the verse:

“Vayit’rotz’tzu habanim bikir’bah, vatomer: Im ken, lamah zeh anochi?” to mean: “The children crushed within her, and she said: ‘If this is so, why do I exist?'” [Gen. 25:22] Nachmanides, a century after Rashi, goes so far as to read Rebecca’s question as:  “What good is life if I have to suffer like this?”

[Read more…]