Archives for August 2015

Torah Reflections – August 16-22, 2015

Shof’tim

Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9

 

The Healing Power of Self-Awareness  

This week marks the beginning of the month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish year. Less than 29 days separate us from Rosh HaShanah, New Year’s Day. Elul is a month of preparation ahead of the High Holy Days, a time of personal inventory. We review the year that was, fearlessly assessing how we have “shown-up” in our world against the yardstick of our own values and principles. This process is called Teshuvah/returning, because no matter how far we have drifted away from our center, engaging in this practice with honesty and integrity allows us to return, to re-align ourselves with our soul, our Higher Self. Teshuvah is a way to heal, to forgive and be forgiven, to learn from and let go of the past; a way which ultimately supports our reclaiming our own inner wisdom.

But how do we enter into such a process? Because we are so good at criticizing and condemning ourselves for all our faults and failures throughout the year, how do we engage in a thorough moral inventory, openly examine the character flaws that impact our lives, without falling into excessive self-righteous flagellation which can easily turn into an ego trip down the I-am-the-worst-evil-person-that-ever-was road? The first verses of this week’sTorah portion—which inaugurates the month of Elul each year —give us instructions in regard to this inner process:

         You shall not judge unfairly; you shall show no partiality; you shall not take
bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.
Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that
the Eternal your God is giving you.
[Deut. 16:19-20]
Judging, Torah reminds us, is not condemning. Judging is hearing arguments from all sides, weighing the evidence at hand, assessing, and forming an opinion. Therefore, first and foremost, we are to be fair in our self-assessment. We are not to take-on more blame than what derives from the hurt we have caused, and are to weigh each wrong-doing in proportion of its severity. Our tradition makes a distinction, for example, between the wrongs committed inadvertently and those committed on purpose. Then, we are not to show “partiality.” We are not to dwell on our favorite wrong-doings, the familiar, the known, perhaps the minor ones, and ignore or shortchange others. All our character traits deserve their time in the court of our consciousness. The point of this exercise is not to beat ourselves up, but to become increasingly aware; to bring out of the shadows, out of the basement of repression and denial the fullest truth possible about ourselves. Why? Because awareness itself heals. Because our ability to make the unconscious conscious directly impacts our personal growth. Which is why we shouldn’t “take bribes.” Bribes are what divert us from the truth; the compromises we make with ourselves, the personal justifications and rationalizations that allow us to ignore some of the character flaws that come with being human, unavoidably stuck in ego.

And when this ego traps us in its illusory pursuit of unattainable perfection, Torah tells us that it is “Justice” we are to pursue instead. The word translated as “justice” is tzedek in Hebrew, but tzedek also means “rightness” or “correctness.” What we are to “pursue,” therefore, is the right view about our being, the correct understanding of who we are, as we are. Practicing Tzedek, or Right View, helps us understand our multifaceted conditioning and how it manifests in our world. It gives us, at one level, the possibility to heal and grow; and, at another level, affords us the opportunity to transcend this conditioned self altogether. It supports our ability to stand increasingly as the Witness, aware of who we are, as we are; aware of what is, as it is. When we stand as the Witness, we stand with both metaphysical feet in the land that the Eternal [our] God is giving us, the land of Realization, of Awakening. As the High Holy Days approach, may we courageously gift ourselves the pursuit of Tzedek, the gift of Right View.

Torah Reflections – August 9 – 15, 2015

Re’eh

Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17

Blessings — OK, Bring Them On; But Why Curses?                  
This week’s Torah portion is close to my heart. It was the Torah portion of the week of my wedding, sixteen years ago, and is called Re’eh, which means “See!” It begins:
See! I place before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, if you hearken to the path of mitzvot of the Eternal your God, that I enjoin upon you today; and the curse if you do not hearken to the path of mitzvot of the Eternal your God, and turn aside from the way that I enjoin upon you today… [Deut. 11:26-28]

I place before you today a blessing and a curse,” an interesting injunction to launch a marriage! But as much as the ego is fine with blessings, why does God have to also place curses in front of us?

Note that both blessings and curses are linked here to following (or not) the path ofmitzvot. Typically in the Jewish world, we tend to think of mitzvot as “doing good deeds.” And that’s fine, but in relating only to the “doing,” this limited understanding misses an entire dimension of what mitzvah truly is about. To access the richer understanding we look to the Aramaic root of “mitzvah” which means “connecting.” The path of mitzvot, therefore, is a spiritual practice or discipline which aims at connecting or reconnecting us to God, to the Source of Being that we are. Yet why does embracing a spiritual practice bring blessings and not following one unleash curses? If we consider this to be not so much about outer consequences, but rather about inner awareness, then deeper layers of meaning can be extracted from this injunction.

Often, when we neglect our spiritual practice, we find ourselves caught in the world of the mind, stuck in the chaotic life of the ego. The nature of the ego is to be dissatisfied, to perceive and often dwell upon what is lacking, what is not right, on how things should be and are not. The ego worries, complains about its needs not being fulfilled, its expectations not being met. It looks out at the world and sees violence, devastation, ecological disaster. It lives in anger and resentment about yesterday and in fear of tomorrow, continually trying to manipulate and control today to make it different than it is. And so it is not so much that a life devoid of spirituality brings curses upon itself; rather, it may be that such a life is one where one is only able to see curses. As the first word of our portion may be hinting at, this is about what we are able to “see,” to be present to or aware of. Collapsed in the ego, one sees mainly lack and fear.

When we make spirituality an essential part of our existence, however, what we are able to see is radically different. Because our spiritual path serves to reconnect us to Source, it expands our awareness beyond the tunnel vision of the ego. In removing our blinders and opening our eyes it also opens our heart. As we become spiritually aware, we are able to also see the essential goodness of the world, the miracle of life, the unfathomable gift of our own birth, and the preciousness of relationship. We are able to hold the pain and suffering, the struggling and the fear with acceptance, understanding and compassion. The existence of love brings up feelings of gratitude, the wonder of aliveness, feelings of pure joy. In such awareness the other is no longer seen as a means to satisfy one’s needs; one is able to leave the past in the past, welcome the future with an open heart, and be fully present to one’s experience in every moment, just as it is. When awareness transcends the ego, one can’t help but see abundance and love.

The perfect wedding gift of a portion after all!