Archives for January 2015

Torah Reflections – January 11-17, 2015

Va-eira

Exodus 6:2 – 9:35

 

Many Faces of God                                  

This week’s Torah portion opens with a compelling affirmation: “God (Elohim) spoke to Moses and said to him: ‘I Am the Eternal (YHVH).'” [Ex. 6:2] I often wonder how people read this opening: “God spoke to Moses.” It is such a common verse in Torah that we tend to skip over it. But, this time, let’s take a few moments to reflect on what it might mean.

Whatever image this sentence conjures within us, based on our own individual understanding of what God might be, this sentence categorically affirms that God is. In truth, there never is a debate within Judaism about God’s existence; not in biblical times and not since the advent of Rabbinic Judaism. God’s existence is taken for granted in Jewish tradition. We simply start with “God is.” The nature of the Divine, what God is, is what we are asked to explore and unpack for ourselves in each generation, together with the Divine’s relationship with Creation.

Beneath the layer of the myth or the storytelling, we are confronted with God as Elohimrevealing God-Self as YHVH. The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem M. Schneerson, explains that the word “Elohim [is] a finite disclosure, revealing God as He is immanent in the world, the world of plurality: hence the name Elohim which is in the plural.” God, as immanent, manifests Himself as all that is, the whole of Creation. Everything, every one, everywhere, every when, is God; is Elohim. But Rabbi Schneerson continues saying that God “was [now] revealed in His four-letter name as infinite, transcending all divisions, a Oneness.” YHVH are the four letters of the unpronounceable name of God, transcending the divisions of the dualistic world of Creation; not plural but One. Here, God is nothing, no one, nowhere and no when. The name is unpronounceable because words exist only in the world of ElohimYHVH transcends time and space, It is pure nothingness within which everything arises; formless Being-ness within which all form becomes manifest.

In the next verse of our Torah portion God follows His initial declaration saying: “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by my name YHVH.” [Ex. 6:3] The Midrash explains: “And so the Name Shaddai represents God as He appears in the finite world” [Bereishit Rabbah 46,2] God appearsin/as/through the finite world, but His essence (his name) is known only beyond that world. Furthermore, from this moment forward, the totality of the Divine nature-immanent and transcendent at once-now so revealed, can be known and apprehended by all. God is now making God-self available to be fully known. And the Lubavitcher Rebbe concludes: “At that moment [of revelation, all] divisions were dissolved, [and most critically] the division between higher and lower powers.” [Torah Studies, p.88] The Rebbe is calling us to awaken to a realization wherein the separation between the highertranscending YHVH and the lower immanent Elohim dissolves, a knowing that YHVH andElohim are not two.

Some of us connect to God as Elohim in the plurality of ways She appears: immersed in the sacredness of Creation, the holiness of Nature. Others seek to know or commune withYHVH, the transcending aspect of God through meditation or prayer. Ultimately, as the Rebbe said, at the end of whichever path we choose is an opening in consciousness wherein all divisions dissolve, and one is able to remember the One at the source of it all.

Torah Reflections – December 28, 2015 – January 3, 2015

Vayechi

Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

Awakening to a Deeper Trust                                

Trust is a central tenet in our tradition. Judaism is not a creedal religion, by which I mean that no acceptance of a specific theological system, no adoption of dogma, is required in order to be Jewish. Instead, Judaism asks for trust. And this notion goes back to biblical times. Take Abraham for example. God appears to him and immediately orders him around, promising him land and numerous descendants, in exchange for his trust. God never asks Abraham — or any other hero in Torah for that matter — to believe in Him. God is. His being is assumed, a fact never discussed or questioned. It is Abraham’s trust, not faith, which is tested throughout his life.

With trusting comes a different kind of worldview, a different set of expectations from life in general and our reason for being in particular. Many of us have come to believe — and our modern western capitalist societies make sure to continuously reinforce this belief — that our main life purpose is the pursuit of happiness. Judaism holds, however, that mankind’s main job is not to seek happiness, but rather, to strive to make ourselves clear channels of God’s manifestation; or, in other words, we are to remember that we are the sacred instruments of God’s work. Engaging in the pursuit of individual happiness leads us to a dualistic understanding of existence, to the false conviction that we are in control of this, our discrete life; and to the suffering that comes with holding that only good things ought to happen to good people. As God’s servants we understand and accept the shadow which inevitably comes with the light, walk humbly with the knowledge that control is but painful illusion and, paradoxically, are better able to surrender to what is, aware that everything is but the manifestation of the One.

This trust of what is as God manifesting is what the Hebrew calls emunah, usually mistakenly translated as “faith.” Emunah shares the same root with the word amen which means “it is so.” Emunah is about trusting the it-is-so-ness of the Divine manifesting moment to moment. Ours is a spiritual path to wake up to the ego-free instruments we already are through which Divine energies flow unobstructed. In Torah Joseph becomes, in his adult years, a man of deep trust. He sees himself as a servant of God, a channel for God. For him the challenges of life become opportunities for growth and a way to refine his character. He lives in the moment with trust, sharing the gifts he has been blessed with, sharing who he is in all circumstances. As his story comes to a close and he has finally been reconciled with his long-estranged brothers, he says to them:

Though you intended me harm, God intended it for good, in order to accomplish what is now the case, to keep alive a numerous people. Now, therefore, have no fear — I will provide for you and your little ones. [Gen. 50:20-21]

Few of us lead a life as Joseph does. Yet we learn from the selflessness, the capacity for forgiveness, the level of trust and Divine sense of purpose beyond ego that Joseph displays throughout his life in Egypt. And there is a Joseph already in all of us yearning to express the sacred dimensions of our being with complete emunah, with unconditional trust. And so, perhaps this week’s Torah portion calls us to live our lives sourced in the sacred dimensions of being as embodied by Joseph, to remember ourselves as sacred channels for the One Spirit that we are, that we have always been.