Archives for August 2016

Torah Reflections – August 21 – 27, 2016

Eikev

Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

Truth and Love

 

 

Here are a few verses in this week’s Torah portion that, to me, symbolize the essential challenge of the spiritual path and perhaps, moreover, the challenge of our western civilization:

 Be mindful lest you forget the Eternal One awakening within you, and fail to follow His spiritual paths, rules, and laws which I enjoin upon you today. When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Oneness of Being that is all, which liberates you from places of constriction… Remember that it is the Eternal One that manifests through you as wealth… [Deut. 8:11-18]

This is the human paradox: we exist on multiple planes; body, mind and spirit. At the physical level our lives are bent on having our basic needs for safety and security, food and shelter, met. At the mind/ego level this basic process is transformed into a never-ending search for more comfort, pleasure, power and status. Pretty soon this material search itself becomes the major focus of our life and, like our Torah portion notes, we forget the spiritual dimension of our being. Ignoring the Divine aspect of self, the ego begins to act haughtily, believing it is the sole creator of its reality and works to manipulate that reality in an attempt to control it. Reality, however, has one essential characteristic—it changes. So the ego is forced to live an exhausting ongoing lie—that it can handle it all, that it is in control. But it can’t. And it isn’t. Looking beneath the surface we find that this lie arises from the ego’s own fear of change and impermanence seeing in both the inescapable reality of its own demise.

Our sages tell us that rather than struggling with our Yetzer HaRa—our negative traits—and trying to rid ourselves of them, we are to work on expending our Yetzer HaTov—our positive traits. As we begin our preparation for the High Holy Days, truth is the magnifying glass through which we are to look at our lives and seek to become more aware of the ways our ego is distorting reality. But we are to do it from a place of love and compassion for ourselves, without blame, anger or resentment because we understand that the ego is just acting out its own conditioning. Our purpose is to bring understanding where there is confusion, awareness where there is unconsciousness.

So what are the expectations I always bring along that prevent me from being simply present to what is? How does my needing the past to be different than it was, rob me from truly being alive today? How is my wanting my spouse, my kids, my parents, my boss to be different than they are, rob me from simply loving and appreciating them for who they are? What are the stories about who I am, that prevent me from truly growing and evolving beyond the limitations I impose on myself? Seeing truthfully the many ways our conditioned ego manifests is the first step toward liberation, for Truth (one of the many names of God) is the force “which liberates you from places of constriction.” The container in which we are to hold that newfound truth is the heart itself. It is in the heart of compassion that letting go of fear is possible. It is in the heart’s ocean of love that resistance and control are allowed to dissolve. It is in the heart of acceptance that I finally become transparent, and remember the One that I am, the One that I have always been.

Torah Reflections – August 14 – 20, 2016

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.

“Easier said than done!” you might object. Indeed. But the Torah’s instructions continue: “Let these words… be upon your heart.” [Deut. 6:6] Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger (19th century Poland) quotes from the midrashic work called Sifre, which asks: “Why is this [verse] said? Because  it says ‘Love!’ and I do not know how, [Scripture explains that] when you place these words upon your heart, you will come to know the One…” The rebbe derives from this quote that: “By placing the words on your heart always and longing to know the Love of the One, the Spirit of Holiness that dwells within you will be revealed to you.” [S’fat Emet; Devarim, Va-etchanan b] But how do we “place” these words upon our heart?

In biblical times, the heart wasn’t associated with love or emotions; the heart was the seat of the soul, the center of consciousness. To “place” these words upon our heart meant to hold them in consciousness. And as the next verse in Torah continues to instruct us, you were to “repeat them when you sit in your house, when you walk on your way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” [Deut. 6:7] These words were to be a mantra to be practiced not only while sitting in mediation in our home, but throughout the day. “V’ahavta – Love the One in all Its manifestations!” repeated moment to moment, in all our actions, and while looking into the eyes of every being we meet. Both when the mind is filled with fear or anger, and when it is at peace and content. Both when we experience darkness in our world and in our life, and when we feel surrounded by light and bliss. We repeat these words. And by repeating these words we practice choosing reality just as it is, in all its manifestations. Not reality as we would want it to be, but reality as it is. Loving reality as it is, choosing reality exactly as it manifests itself in every moment, is one of the pathways to spiritual awakening, to remembering the True Nature of our being which is Love.

How does this work? Practicing loving whatever is, teaches us to impartially allow every experience to arise, without judgment. Loving “what is” opens a space in our consciousness where love is no longer attached to a particular object, where love is unconditional—i.e. no longer bound by our conditioning. Stepping into such consciousness is how “you will come to know the One” explains the Sifre. It might not happen today. It might not happen tomorrow. Yet Torah is enjoining us to keep practicing, to keep repeating V’ahavta – “Love this! Love now!” For even if the return journey to the home of our soul turns out to be a long one, at least it will be a journey of ever expanding love.

Torah Reflections – August 3 – 13, 2016

Devarim

Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22

The Power of Spiritual Transmission

 

Since we left last week’s Torah portion and opened our books again to study this week’s, thirty-eight years have passed. The generation of Israelites who had known the slavery of Egypt has now died, and a new generation has arisen who’s only memory of Egypt’s captivity is the tales their parents left behind. The image is that in our time of wandering through the wilderness, we have done our spiritual work and have managed to leave behind our slave-mentality, our narrow consciousness plagued with unrelenting attachments and cravings for control. We have been able to transcend this aspect of ego-bound consciousness, yet it is still part of us even if seemingly a distant memory or an ancient tale.

In Torah, the time is now for conquest, for circumventing or defeating the armies that still surround our Promised Land. Before engaging in battle, Moses sends emissaries to ask for safe passage through the lands of the different powers standing between the Hebrews and their final destination. The Torah recounts the plea these messengers make to the king of Edom, descendant of Esau, Jacob’s brother—replaying, in so doing, the original encounter between the two siblings: “Thus says your brother, Israel: You know the hardships that have befallen us; that our ancestors went down to Egypt, that we dwelt in Egypt a long time, and that the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our ancestors.” [Num. 20:14-15] Some rabbis translate the Hebrew “va-yarei-u lanu,” rendered here “dealt harshly with us,” as: “made us seem harsh, bad.” They comment that “to justify their cruel treatment of us, they proclaimed that we were evil and deserving of persecution.” (Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary; p.886)  Perhaps what this new generation of Hebrews was realizing in saying these words, is that we all tend to make our enemies—those we hold grudges against, those we dislike—into bad people deserving of all the evil that befalls them. Perhaps they were asking the Edomites not to fall prey to the same human trait, and rise above the unhealed story between their extended families.

Perhaps what they were touching upon goes even deeper than that, and has to do with the essential nature of our enslavement. In their years of spiritual exploration they had come to realize that the essence of what keeps us stuck in our own Egypt, is the self-talk that convinces us that we are harsh and bad, deserving of all the evil that happens to us, and certainly not deserving of freedom. All these years our inner Pharaoh “made us seem harsh, bad” to ourselves as a way to keep us enslaved, stuck in this self-defeating reinforced inner story. We have come to believe in the myth of our separate sense of self and in all the limitations we have placed upon it as a consequence of our own unworthiness narrative. Moreover, we have completely identified with this mythical self and, consequently—like with a Golem—given it a life of its own. This myth of a fixed, permanent, independent self has been layered upon the Light of our True Self, keeping us in the darkness of its lie. What we most suffer from is a case of mistaken identity, believing ourselves to be this sinful, broken, undeserving, mythical creature we call “me.” Our stories are like the armies guarding the entrance to the Promised Land. Some we will have to fight and defeat. Some we will have to outmaneuver. Some will simply yield and offer us safe passage. But we will have to face each and every one of them and shine upon them the dissolving power of the light of Truth; for the only way in is through.

A Letter From Interfaith Climate Action

Why we support a carbon tax: The faith struggle of loving our neighbor and the need for action now

By Keith Ervin and Harriet Platts

How do we begin reducing Washington State’s carbon emissions at the rapid pace needed to do our part to prevent global climate catastrophe? And how do we do this while honoring the needs of our less privileged neighbors?

There’s no single, easy-to-execute answer to this big challenge. But nearly everyone working for climate justice agrees that one essential tool is to put a price on the fossil fuels that are the primary source of greenhouse gases. Washington voters will decide in November whether to adopt Initiative 732, a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

We support this initiative and urge your support. We didn’t come to this decision easily or lightly. As members of Interfaith Climate Action, a joint project of Seattle First Baptist Church and Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue, we studied and discussed I-732 for months before reaching a unanimous consensus to support it.

Members of our climate group supported Initiative 732 last year and collected signatures to put it on the ballot. We took a fresh look at the measure this year after some people in the environmental and labor movements actively opposed it. Among those opponents are members of racial minorities who feel that — once again — their voices have not been heard.

We want to explain how we wrestled with this conflict and concluded that I-732 deserves our support. As people of faith we believe we must recognize the connections between climate change and the difficulties faced by many of our fellow citizens. Poor families and people of color are over-represented among those who live on the front lines breathing dirty air (close to the Interstate, next to factories), who are struggling to find affordable housing and access to whole foods, and who are systemically excluded from decision-making circles.

We must acknowledge that our patterns of consumption are disproportionately harmful to our neighbors. Some of the harshest criticism of Initiative 732 has come from groups representing people of color, who complain they weren’t included in the drafting of the proposal. We are troubled that the initiative sponsor, Carbon Washington, failed to bridge the gap with these communities. Nevertheless, we find that I-732 is a viable approach to reducing carbon emissions and it would free Washington’s poorest working families from over taxation.

Here’s the initiative in a nutshell: We would pay more for gasoline and other fossil fuels, with the size of the tax increasing 3.5 percent per year, until reaching approximately $1 per gallon of gas. Every dollar in new taxes would be offset by equal reductions in the sales tax, business tax on manufacturing, and a tax rebate to low-income working families. The initiative would:

-Reduce carbon emissions;

-Reduce tax burden for 400,000 low income households; and

-Accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

 

Initiative 732 is not perfect. But it represents an effective way to address the most pressing challenge of our time.  Climate change is already upon us, in the form of higher temperatures, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, massive storms, wildfires and long-term drought. As stewards of God’s creation, we are called on to take action now.

For more information visit the website yeson732.org.