Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Eating in Holiness – Raising up the Sparks

Dear Friends,
Rosh Chodesh Shevat at Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin was an incredible experience. It inspired me to write the following eating meditation, which is also based on the teachings of the Arizal. I hope to take advantage of the special opportunity during the month of Shevat to work on eating in holiness. I hope that the many classes I am scheduled to give during the month of Shevat about Eating as a Mitzvah the Torah way (click here for more details) will inspire me to work on my own eating for the sake of Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom!
With Blessing of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Click here to read "Devorah: A Woman of Flames" - Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Beshalach

Parasha Meditation Beshalach
Shemot 13:17-17:16
In this week’s Parasha we learn about the manna that the Jewish people received directly from Hashem during their wandering in the wilderness.[1] The Talmud states that eating the manna was a spiritual preparation for receiving the Torah less than two years afterwards. “The Torah was only given to the generation who ate Manna…”[2] What is the connection between eating manna and meriting Torah? Abarbanel explains that by eating manna, the children of Israel were constantly dependent upon Hashem’s mercy. By becoming accustomed to continuously thanking Him for His kindness, their faith would be strengthened.[3] When we make berachot (blessings) over food with deep intention to really thank Hashem – the source of our sustenance – we likewise open ourselves to be a suitable vessel for all of Hashem’s abundance, including the Torah from Heaven.

According to Rav Tzaddok of Lublin, the eating of Adam and Chava in the Garden of Eden was on a complete different dimension. The fruits in the Garden provided spiritual nourishment, the embodiment of the holy letters of the Torah.[4] Therefore, prior to receiving the Torah – the Tree of Life – the ultimate rectification for eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the Jewish people needed first to return to eating spiritual food. The manna had no particular physical form. This is why it would give you whatever taste you desired. Manna, like the fruits of Eden is a physical form for supernal light. It includes no mixture of evil, since no evil descends from Heaven. It contained no waste; every spark of it was absorbed completely by the body.[5]

Based on a person’s spiritual level, the manna would arrive daily either far away in the desert or directly to the doorstep. Thus, the generation who ate manna gained awareness of their personal spiritual level, and learned to elevate their physical being to become a vessel for spiritual sustenance. In this way the manna was a perfect preparation for developing the vessel to receive Torah – our ultimate spiritual sustenance, elevating us once again to the level of ingesting the holy letters of the Torah.

It is not coincidence that we read the Torah portion about the manna during the month of Shevat, and in the week of TubShevat. According to Sefer Yetzira, the month of Shevat is the time for rectifying eating – elevating the sparks.[6] “For a person does not live by bread alone, but by everything that emanates from Hashem’s mouth.”[7] While the body receives nutrients from the food, the soul ingests holy sparks “that emanates from Hashem’s mouth”. In order to elevate these sparks, we need to practice mindful eating in addition to working on reciting our blessings with deep intention. The TubShevat Seder, where we infuse eating fruits with reading Torah verses pertaining to them, is a special opportunity to rectify eating. With Hashem’s help, I will be celebrating TubShevat the special B’erot Bat Ayin way, and sharing with those of you who live in NY, Toronto, Florida, Memphis and Atlanta(click here for more details) Torah sources and practical guidelines how to elevate eating the Torah way. For those of you who are unable to attend any of these events, please try out the special eating meditation I have written for you below.

Here is an eating meditation in honor of TubShevat. This week chose at least one meal where you will focus completely on eating as a mitzvah in the most conscious mindful way. Decide that during this meal you will not allow anything to distract you from working on eating in holiness.

You will not be doing anything else while eating, such as checking your email, watching television, even “kosher tube”, reading or talking. Turn off your phone or make a conscious decision not to pick it up until you have completed your meal, and recited the appropriate after-blessings. You may choose to eat this special meal alone or in the company with others who are ready to share your silent eating meditation.

Prepare a wholesome natural meal that you enjoy. Make your meal colorful and appealing to your eyes, and serve it in beautiful dishes. Set the table perhaps with candles and beautiful flowers. Prepare yourself to partake of your meal, sit comfortable on your chair with your back straight. Take a few complete breaths, which will allow the oxygen to enter into all your limbs and facilitate digestion. Place your plate of food in front of you. And recite the following Torah verse three times:
צַדִּיק אֹכֵל לְשׂבַע נַפְשׁוֹ וּבֶטֶן רְשָׁעִים תֶּחְסָר
“The righteous person eats to satisfy his soul, but the stomach of the wicked is always lacking”[8]

Take a look at the food, look at its colors and the textures. Look at how it shines. Think about how all this food is a loving gift from Hashem. What do you appreciate about the food? What can you thank Hashem for in bringing you this food? Why is this particular food important to you?

Now is the time to recite your berachot (blessings) before eating your food. Imagine the King of the Universe giving you the fruit of the earth – handing it to you directly as a present so that you may receive such blessings. Through this food you have the opportunity to attach yourself to the Land of Israel and to Hashem.

Recite all your berachot slowly and with deep intention. Bless Hashem for being the Creator of your sustaining food, of the fruit of the tree, of the fruit of the earth, and for everything that came into being by His word.

Take a bite of the appropriate food after each blessing and chew it really well, until it becomes liquid. Remember digestion starts in the mouth. Try to chew each bite 32 times corresponding to the 32 teeth and the 32 pathways of wisdom.[9] As you chew remember to breathe and visualize how your table is aמִזְבֵּחַ – mizbeach – altar, and how your eating in holiness will be an atonement for any wrongdoing this week.

Breathe through your nose, and continue to chew with intention, extending the life of the food in your mouth, extracting its sweetness and holy sparks. It takes a lot of self-discipline and you can develop patience by eating slowly and chewing every bite so many times. For me, it’s a work in progress. Enjoy the pleasure of the tastes and offer thankful thoughts to Hashem with every chew. Chose a Torah verse to recite and meditate on, in your mind’s eye as you chew. Meditate peacefully with your rhythmic chew, to unite your eating with Hashem – the source of all your goodness. When you are done eating recite your after-blessings slowly and mindfully.

Sefat Emet explains that the reason why there is no Torah as the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, is that the food in the Land of Israel is prepared through the Mitzvot of the land. We merit Torah according to our level of eating in holiness. Therefore, on the Holy Shabbat, when eating the Shabbat meals, we merit more Torah.[10] There are only two blessings directly from the Torah: The blessing before learning Torah and Grace after Meals.[11] Our Rabbis established that we also recite blessings before eating. According to the Arizal, when we eat in holiness, we reveal new aspect of Torah. We absorb a spark of Torah consciousness with every bite of food. Therefore, just as the Torah requires us to recite blessings before learning Torah, so do we recite blessings before eating. The blessing that we recite before eating is actually a blessing for the Torah we are going to absorb from this act of eating.[12]
[1] Shemot, Chapter 16
Midrash Tanchuma, Beshalach, Chapter 20
Abarbanel on Shemot 16, p. 134
Pri Tzaddik, for Rosh Hashana, Ot 5
Rav Chaim of Vollozin, Ruach Chayim, Avot 3
Sefer Yetzira, Chapter 5
Devarim 8:3
Mishlei 13:25
Sefer Yetzira 1:1, this part of the eating meditation is based on Arizal, Sefer Likutim, Parashat Ekev, Chapter 8
Sefat Emet, Parashat Beshalach, Year 5656
Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 21a
Based on Sarah Yehudit’s News and Muse, from a Still Small Voice, Rosh Chodesh, Shevat, 5769

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Eradicating our Deepest Fears

You can learn from me personally about the Three Primal Fears in my Introduction to EmunaHealing Workshops...  
We have updated Tour Descriptions on the web

Dear Friends, 
I relate personally to this week’s Parashat Bo – about going out towards the fearful unknown, for in only one week I will be on my way to face the fearful unknown of leaving the comfort zone of my beautiful home in Israel. On my upcoming North America tour (click here for details), I don’t know how I will get to all the different places where I’m supposed to teach, I don’t know if people are going to come flocking to learn with me, whether I will make my fundraising goal, and sell all the copies of my book Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion, which we have sent by mail to my various hosts. I don’t know how well received my classes will be, if people are going to be enthusiastic or throw tomatoes. In trying to deal with my own fears I have designed this parasha meditation to work on eradicating our deepest fears. According to the Zohar Moshe too was afraid when having to confront the source of evil. Read on how we can learn to overcome fears from the way Hashem assuaged Moshe.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Click here to read "Hashem's Feminine Indwelling Presence" - Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Bo.

Parasha Meditation Bo
Shemot 10:1-13:16

This week’s parasha opens with Hashem sending Moshe to face Pharaoh, whose heart Hashem has hardened. Hashem said to Moshe: “Come to Pharaoh…!”[1] The Hebrew בֹּא אֶל פַּרְעֹה –”Bo el Pharaoh” is usually translated “Go to Pharaoh” But “Bo” means “come,” not “go.” The Zohar comments on the reason why Hashem tells Moshe “Come” rather than “go” to Pharaoh. Rabbi Shimeon said: Now it is time to reveal secrets that are bound above and below. Why does it say, “Come to Pharaoh”? It should have said, “Go to Pharaoh” .... But G-d brought Moses into a chamber within a chamber, to the... supernal and mighty serpent from which many levels evolve...which Moses feared to approach himself... Zohar, part II, 34a

What exactly did Moshe fear and how does Hashem’s prompting him to “come to Pharaoh” relieve this fear?

Fear is one of the main spiritual blocks in most people’s lives. On my upcoming North American tour in the EmunaHealing introductory class, I will be addressing the Three Primal Fears and how to overcome them (click here for more details). We all suffer from various fears both known and especially unknown. Fear is the underlying emotion that affects our unconscious choices and ambitions in so many ways; it even affects our physical health. What makes our fears so detrimental is that they are invisible, and we aren’t always able to define them. In order to alleviate our fears we need to uncover their root, so that we will learn to face our worst fears.

Moshe had already visited Pharaoh many times before Hashem told him in our parasha, “Come to Pharaoh.” What made Moshe more afraid of Pharaoh this particular time?

Until now Moshe had dealt with Pharaoh’s various exterior layers without confronting his actual essence. Now at the verge of the seventh plague Moshe was terrified when told to enter into the core essence of Pharaoh’s evil, the “great serpent.”[2] Therefore Hashem responded “Come to Pharaoh,” – “Come with me – you don’t go alone. I come with you and help you eradicate the evil at its core.

Loneliness is the root of fear. I have often thought how irrational it is that I feel more afraid when alone than in the company of another person. The object of my fears, whether it be fear of death, illness, terrorism or accidents won’t be escaped by the fact that I’m not alone. Yet, it is the feeling of being alone and isolated in our suffering that causes fear. Fear emanates from the feeling that no one can understand us, even if someone does empathize with us; they are not with us all the way, because they are not one with us. Rabbi Nachman relates Pharaoh to the void of original tzimzum[3] facing this void, we feel we are on our own – isolated in a desolate universe, disconnected from any source of sustenance. Even the holy Moshe, was gripped by terror, when challenged to encounter and purge the root essence of evil. G-d, therefore assured him by saying “Come to Pharaoh” – “Come with Me,” I go with you. As Rabbi Simon Jacobson writes,[4] “this is the powerful message that each of us must take from Parashat Bo – “Come with Me.” No matter how lonely we may feel, especially in our loss and pain, we are not alone. The only answer to the invisible power of fear – the fear of being alone – is to recognize that you are not alone. You are never alone.”

Sit comfortably in your chair or on a cushion on the floor with your back straight. Close your eyes. Take several deep breaths and try to get in touch with your body. As you breathe and relax become aware of any possible tensions throughout your body. Visualize the letters of the word בֹּא – “bo” – come. On the in-breath visualize the Hebrew letter בּ – beit. On the outbreath visualize the Hebrew letter א – alef. As you inhale feel as if you are going deeper into yourself. While exhaling imagine attaching yourself to the alef – the Oneness of the word – Hashem. Rather than going in the order of the “alef beit”, you are going backwards from the “beit” to the “alef”. The world is created with the letters of the alef beit.[5] Imagine going backwards in your creation to a more primal part of your being. Now think of difficulty that you are facing in your life. It may be a reoccurring kind of difficulty, a goal that you have been unable to meet, although you have made resolutions to reach it over and over. Allow your breath to take you wherever it takes you, and ask Hashem in your mind’s voice “Which fear is blocking me from reaching X goal?” or “Which fear is blocking me from overcoming X?” Just be still without trying to visualize or breathing in any particular way, open yourself up to receive Hashem’s answer for you. Keep breathing naturally until the fear that is blocking you from achieving your goal surfaces in your mind’s eye. If you feel blank, just keep repeating the question over and over until you receive some kind of answer.

When you have discovered the underlying fear preventing you from success in a certain area, make a positive affirmation in your mind’s voice. “I chose to allow Hashem’s light to eradicate the fear of X!” Try to get in touch with where in your body this fear is located. Breathe into that body-part. Try to get in touch with the shape and color of your fear. Perhaps it’s a big black hole, or a dark bulging mass. Imagine Hashem’s light entering you from above your head, and try to visualize taking this light and entering it into the place of you your fear, as you breathe slowly and relaxed. Keep infusing your fear with Hashem’s light, and visualize the black mass of your fear slowly evaporating, as you assure yourself, that you are not alone in your fear. Hashem is right there with you supporting you and helping you overcome even your worst fear. Continue this visualization until the black mass of your fear has totally disappeared. Then slowly tap your hands and your feet on the floor and table, before opening your eyes and return to regular awakened state, relieved and with a lighter feeling.

This meditation is composed to help overcome our deepest fear through heightening the awareness that we are never alone. Developing compassion and empathy for others is another way of overcoming loneliness – the source of our existential fears. The Plague of the Darkness mentioned in this week’s parasha teaches us a lesson about love and compassion. During the three days of darkness, people were unable to see their friend, and even unable to move from their place. “One could not see another, and was unable to stand up from his place for three days...”[6] The verse hints at the consequence of living without unity. Seeing our fellow and being able to move from our place are connected. When we are insensitive to other people’s suffering, it is as if we choose not to see our friend. By ignoring the pain and despair of our friend we create the deepest emotional darkness.

Rabbi Moshe Leib Sassover used to tell his chassidim that he learned what it means to love a fellow Jew from two Russian peasants. Once he came to an inn, where two thoroughly drunk Russian peasants were sitting at a table, draining the last drops from a bottle of strong Ukrainian vodka. One of them, in a slurred drunken drawl yelled to his friend, “Igor! Do you love me?” Igor, somewhat surprised by the question answered, “Of course Ivan, of course I love you!” “No no”, insisted Ivan, “Do you really love me, really?!” Igor, now feeling a bit cornered assured him, “What do you think? I don’t love you? Of course I love you. You’re my best friend Ivan!” “Oh yes, yes?” countered Ivan. “If you really loved me… then why don’t you know what hurts me and the pain I have in my heart?” Let us step out of the loneliness of our own fear by trying to feel the pain of our friend.

[1] Shemot 10:1.
[2] Yechezkiel 29:3.
[3] Likutei Moharan, Mahadura Kama, Siman 64.
[4] The Autonomy of Fear
[5] Sefer Yetzira, Chapter 2.
[6] Shemot 10:23.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Unblocking Hashem’s Voice Within

Dear Friends,
This Parasha meditation is based on my book Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion, Parashat Vaera, pages 51-52. If you would like to order the book, please email info@berotbatayin.org. As I'm planning all the details of my upcoming North America Tour, I tend to get stressed out. Stress shortens our breath, closes the energy fields, and blocks us from hearing Hashem's voice. Everything I wrote below I wrote to myself. I hope to find the time to practice this breathing meditation. Please try it out as well, and let me know if it helps you to hear Hashem's clues to you on how to solve the issues that stress you out most!

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

Click here to read "Our Actions Today Empower the Future" - Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Va'era

Parasha Meditation Va'era
Shemot 6:2-9:35

Yearning for Freedom
During the Egyptian Slavery, the Children of Israel were unable to hear about the forthcoming redemption, because of the heavy burden of their servitude. “Moshe spoke to the children of Israel, but they did not listen to Moshe through anguish of spirit (shortness of breath) and through hard service”.[1] People of bitter spirit cannot think about anything except how to satisfy their immediate needs. They are looking for instant relief alone, and do not have the menuchat hanefesh (ease of mind) it takes to envision redemption, or to yearn for freedom.

Obsession with "Strange Work" Blocks Hashem's Voice Within
The Midrash explains that Israel could not listen to Moshe, because it was difficult for them to separate themselves from idol worship.[2] The term for idol worship in Hebrew is avodah zarah, which literally means strange work. Therefore, any kind of compulsion for “strange work” other than Hashem’s mitzvot can block our ability to hear the voice of G-d. Sometimes, I find it hard to separate myself from cleaning the very last dish, and rechecking my email, even if it will make me late for an important meeting. We need to pull ourselves away from the obsession with perfectly completing each professional or domestic chore. Situations may arise when our full attention is needed for something more important, whether a baby’s insistent cry or an adolescent child who wants to talk about feelings. In each case, we must stop and listen to the voice of Hashem within, and ask ourselves, "what does Hashem want from me most right now?"

Listening to the Voice of G-d in the Garden
Before sinning, Adam and Chava lived in the Garden of Eden where they could enjoy its fruits without having to work. They were free to devote themselves completely to listening to the voice of G-d. Since they misused this opportunity, it was taken away from them. From then on, man was cursed to work to earn a living by the sweat of his brow.[3] In the same way that the men in Egypt were unable to hear the words of redemption, in our times, being excessively caught up in hard work can prevent people from hearing the inner voice of G-d. Spending quality time in Nature – in the garden, listening to the birds and the wind, watching the plant life and butterflies, smelling the flowers and herbs help free ourselves to regain awareness of the Divine Voice within.

Hearing the Voice
The main challenge of exile is to free our mind from all external matters, in order to be able to truly listen. Sefat Emet urges us to detach ourselves from the emptiness of materialism in order to free our heart to listen to the words of G-d.[4] The Torah describes the inability of the children of Israel to listen as a result of literally being "short of spirit and preoccupied with hard work" – קָשָׁה מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָה. The word for spirit – ruach – רוּחַ can also mean wind or breath. When we are stressed and worried about money, health, or what the future may hold, without being aware, our breath begins to shorten, providing less oxygen to all the limbs of our body. This constraint could cause more and more worry and anxiety. Many scientific studies prove the correlation between stress and various illnesses.[5] To break the vicious cycle, we need to take a break from all the work and stress, and practice taking long and deep breaths, allowing Hashem's life-giving energy to penetrate our entire being.

Relaxing our Breathing
When we breathe quickly and shorten our breath through anxiety, worry and stress, we literally close ourselves up to the world, our beloved family and friends and to the Divine Voice within us. Through relaxed elongated breaths we have the ability to open ourselves up, and get back in touch with the Voice of the Shechinah – the בַּת קוּל which perpetually communicates with our soul. Hashem breathed a living soul into the nostrils of the first human. Since then every Jew has a Divine soul and spirit. Our entire being and all our actions need to be permeated with our Divine soul – our inner life-force. Breaking this life-force by being involved in material matters without placing our spirit in them, is what defines קֹּצֶר רוּחַ – being short of breath. This stems from exile mentality and lack of emunah (faith).[6]

This meditation will with Hashem's help counteract the קֹּצֶר רוּחַ – shortness of breath stemming from the various anxiety and stress syndromes of our times. The long and deep breathing will assist you in opening yourself to listen and getting in touch with the Divine Voice within. Sit comfortably in your chair ensuring that your back is straight. Always breathe through your nose, and try to concentrate on the soft sound of your breath — a steam like sound similar to making a ה – "h" sound with your mouth closed. When you concentrate on the sound, it will make it harder to think about other things, which makes the technique more effective and contributes greatly to the stress-coping effect. It gives your mind a rest. If any extraneous thoughts emerge, allow them to pass through you one by one.

The Complete Breath
Get ready to practice the Complete Breath where you open up your entire diaphragm, torso and the top section of your lungs to fully expand. Place your hands on your belly and breathe out, trying not to slouch forward. Tighten your belly muscles to get as much air out as possible.

1. Begin to breathe in from the bottom up, letting your belly muscles relax so the air appears to fill your belly. What you are actually feeling as your belly relaxes is your diaphragm expanding fully, allowing oxygen into the entire lower section of your lungs.

2. Continue to breathe in and feel the air filling the center part of your torso. Allow your ribs to expand sideways while still breathing in. Imagine the muscles between your ribs stretching so that your ribs expand in all directions, not just forward. The stomach will automatically go inwards slightly.

3. Third, lift the chest and collar bone up while still breathing in.
Breathe in a little more and feel the air filling the very top sections of your lungs.

Even though this is described as three separate processes, it should be done in a smooth, continuous rhythm with each part following smoothly on from the previous part. Try to avoid any jerky movements. Do not hold your breath, but gently start to breathe out, slowly, from the top down.

Exhaling is a more passive affair, except for the third stage when the stomach is pushed in slightly.

1. Just allow the collar bone, chest and ribs to relax-the air will go out automatically.

2. Let your ribs contract, emptying all the air from you’re the area of your torso

3. Finally tighten your belly and push the stomach in slightly to expel any remaining air in the lungs. Do not hold your breath at the bottom of the cycle.

It is important to breathe in and out for approximately the same length of time. Most of us naturally breathe out longer than we breathe in. In the Complete Breath you are counteracting that tendency and breathing more evenly. Repeat the Complete Breath 5 to 10 times for about 2-4 minutes of practice.

The Complete Breath to Dissolve Stress Syndromes
1. Begin inhalation in the Complete Breath while focusing on an issue that stresses you out most.

2. Exhale in the Complete Breath while imagining bursting the balloon of your stressful issue.

3. Inhale in the Complete Breath while imagining Hashem's light entering your stressful issue.

4. Exhale in the Complete Breath while imagining dissolving your stressful issue completely.

Silent Meditative State to Listen to Hashem's Voice Within
After having practiced Complete Breath in this manner for several minutes, allow yourself to breathe naturally for as long as you are able. Notice how your breathing has become naturally slower and deeper. Now ask Hashem what is blocking the issue that stresses you out the most from being open to healing. Keep breathing naturally while opening yourself to really hear Hashem's answer within your soul.

Transcending Enslavement to Give Ear
During our morning prayer, we mention the Exodus from Egypt before Shema Yisrael. By freeing ourselves from our personal enslavement of Egypt – the issues that stress us out – we become ready to hear the word of G-d. Worrying and stressing too much can block us from hearing the Divine call within. G-d gave us the gift of an extra soul on Shabbat in order to free ourselves from the enslavement to our work. Shabbat is the most precious gift, to overcome shortness of breath and recharging our neshama. Refraining from the thirty-nine melachot (creative works) on Shabbat enables us to hear the word of G-d. 
May we all merit hearing the voice of G-d, speaking to us at every moment of the day!
[1] Shemot 6:9
Shemot Rabah, Parasha 6, Piska 5
Bereishit 3:19
Sefat Emet on the Torah, Parashat Vayera, Year 5632
See for example Relationships among stress, infectious illness, and religiousness/spirituality in community-dwelling older adults. University of Tennesse, College of Nursing, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA. Callen BL, Mefford L, Groër M, Thomas SP.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Burning Bush and Our Spiritual Growth

Dear Friends,
This time Hashem guided me to an audio recording of my Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh that greatly inspired me, so I decided to share it with you, spending hours finding all of the sources that the Rav quoted. I hope this week's teaching about the burning bush will move you as much as it moved me. I added a very short practical meditation at the beginning to go with the fivefold teaching.
With Blessings of the Torah and the Land

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Click here for Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Shemot - "On the Verge of Redemption"

Parasha Meditation Shemot
Shemot 1:1-6:1
The Burning Bush and Our Spiritual Growth[1]

When our redeemer Moshe Rabbeinu was eighty years old, and out in the desert shepherding the sheep of his father-in- law, Yitro, he noticed a strange phenomenon. As he looked closer he received his first revelation from Hashem at the burning bush.
ספר שמות פרק ג
ב) וַיֵּרָא מַלְאַךְ הַשֵם אֵלָיו בְּלַבַּת אֵשׁ מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה הַסְּנֶה בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ וְהַסְּנֶה אֵינֶנּוּ אֻכָּל:
:ג) וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אָסֻרָה נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת הַמַּרְאֶה הַגָּדֹל הַזֶּה מַדּוּעַ לֹא יִבְעַר הַסְּנֶה

:ד) וַיַּרְא הַשֵם כִּי סָר לִרְאוֹת וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו אֱלֹהִים מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה משֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּנִי
The angel of Hashem appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Moshe said: 'I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.' When Hashem saw that he turned aside to see, G-d called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said: 'Moshe, Moshe.' And he said: 'Here am I.'[2]

The word הַסְּנֶה – HaSneh – "the bush," is mentioned for the first time in the Torah at the beginning of the Book of Shemot, where it appears five times. This corresponds to the beginning of the Book of Bereishit where the word אוֹר – Ohr – "Light" also appears five times.
ספר בראשית פרק א
ג) יֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי אוֹר:
ד) וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאוֹר כִּי טוֹב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחשֶׁךְ:
ה) וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד
G-d said: 'Let there be light.' And there was light. And G-d saw the light that it was good; and G-d divided the light from the darkness. G-d called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. There was evening and there was morning, one day.[3]

Let us meditate upon the image of the burning bush and how we can apply it to our own spiritual growth. There is a clear correspondence between the revelation of the first light and the first Divine revelation to Moshe who received the Torah which is the manifestation of light.[4] Hashem chose to give all the Torah and light to the Jewish people. Divine revelation is also an experience of light and enlightenment.

Take several deep breaths, relax, close our eyes and meditate on the symbol of the burning bush. As you breathe stay longer, relax more. Allow warmth of the fire flow through your body. Notice a white, comforting light emanating from the bush. You can only see and feel this light when you take the time to stop and relax. The light is in the bush. The light is in you, warming you, healing you, surrounding you with white light...with a sense of unity with all of G-d’s creation.

Imagine the paradox of the thorn-bush burning with the fire and flame without being consumed. Visualize before you the thorny branches remaining intact even as they are surrounded by flames of fire. Imagine five leaves growing out of one point of the branch. The entire bush is filled with leaves that come in groups of five, all growing out of the same point. Inhale visualize the bush, exhale visualize the fire burning it without burning it away. Repeat four more times.

The burning fire of the bush emanated from the original light "Ohr HaGanuz" that Hashem hid away for the tzadikim to enjoy in the coming world.[5] Moshe's first experience of these five lights represented by the five times the word הַסְּנֶה – HaSneh – "the bush," is mentioned, corresponds to the five primary emotions of the heart.

Chesed – חֶסֶד (Loving/Kindness)   Avraham
Gevurah – גְּבוּרָה, (Courage/Awe)   Yitzchak
Tiferet –תִּפְאֶרֶת (Beauty/Compassion)   Ya'acov
Netzach –נֵצַח (Confidence/Victory)   Moshe

Hod – הוֹד (Sincerity/Acknowledgment)   Aharon

Hod is the temimut – simplicity – walking simply with G-d with dedication and thanksgiving acknowledging G-d's eternal presence.
מדרש רבה שמות פרשה ב פסקה ה
ר' נחמן בנו של ר' שמואל בר נחמן אומר כל האילנות יש מהן עושה עלה אחת ויש מהן שתים או שלש הדס עושה שלש שנקרא (ויקרא כג) עץ עבות אבל הסנה יש לו ה' עלין א"ל הקב"ה למשה אין ישראל נגאלין אלא בזכות אברהם יצחק ויעקב ובזכותך ובזכות אהרן:
Rabbi Nachman son of Rabbi Shemuel son of Nachman says, of all the trees, there are some that produce one leaf [from the same point], and there are those who produce two or three. The myrtle produces three leaves [that emerge from the same point]. It is called "a thick-leaved tree."[6] However, הַסְּנֶה – the bush, has five leaves [that emerge from the same point]. Hashem told Moshe, 'Israel is only redeemed in the merit of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'acov, and in your merit and in the merit of Aharon your brother.[7]

The burning bush with its five leaves emerging from one common source relates to Hashem's message to Moshe to propel him to become the redeemer of the Jewish people, taking them out of bondage. In order to successfully emerge from exile you have to have the merit of five souls. Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya'acov, the patriarchs correspond to the three leaves of the myrtle tree. The additional tzadikim that have to be connected and combined with the first three are Moshe and his brother Aharon. Only by joining all five of these souls together can redemption take place.
According to Kabbalah these five souls corresponds to the first five of the emotional sefirot –emanations. The bush, initially, before it even takes on fire, represents these five emerging from one, like five fingers emerging from the same hand. It is the hand of G-d which will redeem Israel from Egypt.[8] The Ten Plagues correspond to the two hands. They reappear afterwards in the Ten Commandments, on the Two Tablets representing five fingers of two hands. The secret of Exodus is the secret of five. The first phenomenon of five is the five lights of creation. Torah itself is light, the Five Books of Moshe – the five revelations of Divinity – become even more potent and physically manifest in the burning bush.

Moshe witnessed the amazing miraculous phenomenon that the bush was burning without burning away. He saw two different creations, one is the fire and the other is the bush. The general law of nature is that all created things become consumed and expire. The bush had the miraculous character that it remained. Nothing could harm it. We can glean five levels of teachings, from the revelation of the burning bush, corresponding to its five leaves that emanate from one point.

1. The first teaching is that there is no place devoid of the Divine presence, even the lowest of bushes – the thorn bush.[9] If you put your hand into הַסְּנֶה – HaSneh – "the bush" you will get scratched. On the other hand the bush also produced roses with the most amazing aroma. The bush represents the Jewish people, which more than any other people on earth includes both the greatest tzadikim (righteous people) and greatest reshaim (wicked people).[10] There is no place vacant of G-d, even this thorny bush דלית אתר פנוי מניה – D'Leit Atar Panui Minei.[11] The omnipresence of the Creator even in the lowest part of creation, was Hashem's first teaching to Moshe.

This teaching is related to Avraham, the first of the great souls in the fivefold unity, which gives the Jewish people the merit to be redeemed from Egypt. Avraham was the first person to teach the world true monotheism. With great חֶסֶד – Chesed – (Loving/Kindness) he taught the world that G-d is everywhere. Not only is G-d the only G-d, His presence, moreover, permeates the entire world. G-d and the world is one. The basic teaching that G-d is omnipresent, even in things that appears to be negative and lowly, arouses and inspires us to come closer to G-d.

2. From one revelation to the next of the five levels, we descend stage by stage from the fire to the bush – from the light to the vessel. The first revelation was to realize that G-d is everywhere. Wherever you look there is G-dly fire, even if you don't see it. The second teaching is that G-d experiences pain from the pain of his people. עִמּוֹ אָנֹכִי בְצָרָה – Imo anochi b'tzara – "I will be with him in trouble."[12] This second stage of descent makes the experience much more touching to one's heart. First the bush represented all of reality, now the bush represents the Jewish people. The bush is experiencing pain, but Hashem is there in the midst of the pain.

The very concept of pain and suffering comes from the second emanation of the heart which is Gevurah – גְּבוּרָה, (Courage/Awe), represented by Yitzchak. Hashem participates in our pain. He is not just patting us on the back, he is actually experiencing our very pain.בכל צרתם לו צר – B'chol Tzaratam lo Tzar – "In all their troubles, He experiences pain".[13] G-d suffers together with the Jewish people. He wants us to feel that He is together with us. This is also a support that He definitely will redeem us.

3. The third teaching is to experience the paradox of two opposites existing simultaneously. Before Moshe saw the paradox in the situation, he wasn't drawn to go over and see what was going on. Only when he saw the paradox that the bush was burning, but not burning away, did he take five steps to approach the bush. Divine beauty is reflected in the existence of opposites within the wonder of nature. When two opposite blend together in perfect harmony, it produces beauty. Nature is never just one color. The Jewish deep sense of Divine curiosity, to try to understand the very experience of opposites existing simultaneous is the third level of revelation. Whereas the first teaching focused on the fire – the fire of G-d's omnipresence, the second teaching focuses on the bush – that G-d participates in the pain of the bush. At the third teaching we have reached the middle point where all is equal. There is equal existence of fire and bush. It is the wonder of the co-existence of fire and bush.

Compassion is to see and witness what is happening – the bush is burning, but not burning away. The coexistence and harmony of opposites is Tiferet –תִּפְאֶרֶת (Beauty/Compassion) represented by Ya'acov who was a scientist. Actually, he performed all kinds of scientific experiments to understand what is going on in Nature, and come to the root of the phenomenon of nature. He understood G-d by understanding the wonders of Nature.

4. In the fourth teaching the fire is no longer a symbol of G-d, but of the servitude of Egypt. This fire is trying to consume and burn away the Jewish soul. However, it is not going to succeed in burning out the Jewish soul, for the Jewish people is an eternal people, and nothing is going to consume us. No profane fire, whatsoever, is going to consume the Jewish soul and the Jewish people. The Jewish people is essentially an eternal people, because it is a part of G-d himself. In the fourth teaching there is greater focus on the bush than on the fire. The bush which represents the Jewish people is eternal.

This corresponds to Moshe our teacher and the sefirah of נֵצַח – Netzach – (Confidence/Victory) Moshe who emerged victorious from Pharaoh's wrath, and who brought us the eternal Torah stands for victory and eternity.

5. In the fifth teaching, the Jewish soul is meditating upon the truth of G-d's essential changelessness and eternity, which is totally transcendent from the physical reality that constantly changes. This deep meditation would naturally bring the Jewish soul to spiritual consumption – klalot nefesh – making the soul leave the body altogether, consumed into becoming a part included within G-dliness. כִּי אֲנִי הַשֵם לֹא שָׁנִיתִי וְאַתֶּם בְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב לֹא כְלִיתֶם – "I G-d did not change, and you the children of Ya'acov were not consumed."[14] The simple reading of this verse follows the fourth teaching that no matter what happens to the Jewish people, they will never be consumed. Yet, in the fifth and final revelation the very same verse is interpreted by the founder of Chabad Chassidic movement[15] to refer to the mediation taking place in the psychic of the Jewish soul itself. It is as if the verse is asking a question, "How can the Jewish soul meditate in depth upon G-d's essential transcendence, changelessness and eternity without the soul leaving the body?" The Jewish soul in its רַצוֹא – retzo –"run" aspires to become part of G-d, yet the soul knows that Hashem wants it to remain down on earth to live, and make this world a dwelling place of G-d within the body. The commitment of the soul not to expire into G-d, in klalot hanefesh, is the שוֹב – shov – "return".[16] This is the essential prerequisite before the soul begins to run up to G-d. Because of the presence of the principle of "return", it does not expire, even when it experiences G-d's absolute transcendence.

This last interpretation – the fifth level – is the deepest revelation of the bush itself. This bush is so great that it doesn't expire, even if it totally beholds the Divine revelation that "I G-d does not change." In the fourth teaching the fire was negative. The Jewish people would never be consumed by this fire. In the fifth teaching the fire returns to become a positive fire, representing the fire of G-ds absolute transcendence. The ultimate greatness of the Jewish soul that it doesn't expire, because it is the desire of the Creator that it remains on earth to fulfill G-d's will. This corresponds to Hod – הוֹד (Sincerity/Acknowledgment) represented by the last of the fivefold unity of holy souls: Aharon the Kohen Gadol. He was able to enter the Holy of Holies while his soul still remained within his body.

These five revelations that Moshe experienced at the burning bush, corresponding to the five lights of the first day of creation, are becoming very manifest in the physical reality, in this paradoxical experience of the burning bush.

[1] This meditation is a transcription and annotation of Rabbi Ginsburgh's audio lecture from http://www.inner.org/audio/lectures/parsha/shemot.htm
[2] Shemot 3:2-4
[3] Bereishit 1:3-5
[4] "For a candle is a mitzvah and the Torah is light" (Mishlei 6:23)
[5] Rashi, Bereishit 1:4
[6] Vayikra 23:40
[7] Shemot Rabah, Parasha 2, Piskah 5
[8] See Shemot 13:3
[9] Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot, Chapter 3, Allusion 169
[10] Midrash Rabah, Shemot 2:5
[11] Tikunei Zohar, Daf 91b
[12] Tehillim 91:15
[13] Babylonian Talmud, Ta'anit 16a
[14] Malachi 3:6
[15] Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, The Altar Rebbe, author of the Tanya
[16] The Kabbalistic principle of רְצוֹא וְשוֹב –"Running and returning" is first mentioned in Sefer Yetzira, Chapter 1.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

“Shema Yisrael” – Unifying at the heart

Dear Friends,
This week is also called Shabbat Chazak, one of the four (the fifth time is on Simchat Torah) Shabbats when we complete one of the books of the Torah, whereupon the entire congregation rises and together calls out “Chazak Chazak V’nitchazaik”– “Strength! Strength! Let us strengthen ourselves!” Just as we have completed one of the books of the Torah, G-d will help us be strong and complete all of the loose ends of our lives, physically and spiritually. Hashem blessed me with a meditation to help us get in touch with our innate אַהָבַת יִשְרָאֶל –Ahavat Yisrael – Love of all Jews, in order to be able to truly unify Hashem in the world when reciting the שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל – Shema Yisrael.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum


Click here to read "The Bridge Between Life and Death" - Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Vayechi

Parasha Meditation Vayechi
Bereishit 47:28 - 50:26
This parasha concluding the book of Bereishit culminates with the blessings that Ya'acov gave to his children. A blessing is a transfer of energy. In order to transmit Hashem's blessing to another person, the blesser and the blessed need to be united, both with each other and with Hashem. This is why in preparation for blessing his offspring, Ya'acov dramatically entreated his sons: “Join together and I will tell you what will happen at the end of days”.[1] The ultimate blessing that Ya'acov desired to impart is the blessing of the final redemption. Also in order to reach the reality of the days of Mashiach, complete unity is needed.[2] Just as the first exile to Egypt came about because of the strife between Yosef and his brothers, so also the destruction of the Temple happened through unwarranted hatred among Jews. In order to prepare ourselves for the redemption, we need to train ourselves to really love and unity with our fellow-Jews.

"Redemption will not come until every prutah (the smallest denomination of coin) is gone from the pocket."[3] Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, the first Satmar Rebbe, noted that the word prutah shares the same root as the word pratiut – privacy. He explains that Mashiach can’t come until every pratiut – every self-indulgent detail that a person worries about for himself rather than worrying about his fellow man, is dispensed with. When each of us will worry about others the way we worry about ourselves, this will unite us, and we will merit the final redemption.

After imploring his children to unify with the greatest possible love for one another, Ya'acov urged them to unify the name of G-d. "According to tradition, at the time when Ya'acov our father assembled his sons in Egypt, at his death-bed, he commanded and spurred them on in the unification of the name of G-d, that they should follow the path of Hashem that Avraham and Yitzchak his father walked. He asked them and said, 'My sons, perhaps someone among you is flawed and does not stand with me in the Unification of the Name?' They all answered and said, 'Hear Israel Hashem our G-d Hashem is One' – that is, 'Hear from us, our father Israel, Hashem our G-d Hashem is one'. The old man answered 'Blessed be the Name of the Glory of His Kingship for ever and ever!' And this is why all Israel has the custom of repeating the expression of the praise used by Israel when he was an old man after this verse".[4]

"Gather yourselves together, and hear, your sons of Ya'acov, listen to Yisrael your father." [5] The Shlah HaKodesh connects the unification with Hashem expressed in the recital of Shema with the unification between the children of Israel. He asks, why did it state "Gather" immediately after it had stated "join together"?[6] The Shlah explains that "Join together" refers to physical gathering, while "gather yourselves together" refers to spiritual gathering, which implies removal of jealousy, hatred and competition from the heart. Without becoming as one person with one soul it is impossible to receive unification with Hashem. Hashem only dwells on us, when Israel are unified in the heart, without jealousy, like the ministering angels, about whom it states, "they all love…they all accept the yoke of the heavenly Kingdom upon themselves."[7] Therefore, everyone must unify his heart with the entire congregation of Israel, as if speaking to every descendant of Israel, "Hear o Israel"– we are all united in love, without hatred and jealousy – and now we receive the unity of our G-d and recite, "Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One."[8] Here follows a meditation to help us get in touch with our innate love for all of Israel and unify with Hashem.

Before starting this meditation, you may want to look intensely at the three Hebrew letters that make up the word Hebrew word "Shema", until these letters are imprinted in your mind's eye. Sit comfortably in your chair take several deep breaths and relax. Breathe in Hashem’s life-giving light, breath out any tension from all the limbs of your body, starting with your head and finishing with your feet. Continue following your breath until you feel totally relaxed. Breathe in "She" – the fire of Shin, breathe out "Mah" the water of Mem. Continue four more breaths and imagine that you unify fire and water with your inhalation and exhalation. The last letter of the word "Shema" is the letter Ayin which means eye. Imagine you take the fire of the Shin and the water of the Mem and unite them inside the Divine Eye of Ayin. (If it is easier for you, you may imagine a large eye instead of the letter Ayin.) Hold this visualization as you continue breathing softly.

Now empty your "Divine Eye" and place inside of the Ayin the person you love most in life. It can be your spouse if you are married, or a parent, a sibling, a very close relative or friend.

Imagine filling this beloved person with Hashem's light from head to toe, inside of your mind's eye. Get in touch with your own heart as you breathe, feel warmth softness from your heart and allow yourself to feel the love you have for the person you love most in life. Allow this love to spread within your entire body. How does it feel? Is it warm or soothing? A stable unwavering feeling or passionate feeling that comes in spurts? Are there any place within your body where you find it difficult to express your love? Breathe Hashem's light into the places of yourself where your love may be blocked. Then breathe in "She" – the fire of Shin, breathe out "Mah" the water of Mem. Continue four more breaths and imagine unifying fire and water through your inhalation and exhalation.

Now place inside of your Divine Ayin a person you have a difficult time with in life. It can be a child, a mother-in-law, a neighbor who has caused you trouble, or anyone with whom you have or have had a conflict. Imagine filling this person with Hashem's light from head to toe, inside of your mind's eye as you breathe. If you get stuck and find it difficult, try to remember that this person too is a child of G-d. Just as you love your children, or your parents love you, Hashem loves this person so very much, and desires to fill him or her with Divine light. When you have completed filling this person with imaginary light – as if you paint every part of him or her with infinite Divine light – return to focus on yourself.

Is there any part of yourself that feels hatred, jealousy or competition with the person with who you have clashed? Locate any possible negative feeling towards this person inside of your body. Perhaps in the right side of your head, or in your shoulder or heart you feel a certain kind of resentment. Focus in on this feeling of resentment. What color does it have? What texture? Is it round or square dotted, spiked or smooth? Try to remove this resentment from your body into an imaginary basket outside of yourself. Now take an imaginary paintbrush of light and paint everything in the basket with Divine light, until the resentment dissipates. Now breathe in "She" – the fire of Shin, breathe out "Mah" the water of Mem. Continue four more breaths and imagine unifying fire and water through your inhalation and exhalation.

Now imagine that you are a drop of water within the great ocean of the Jewish people. Together with all of Israel, you are part of the great waves and with their frosty foam. Let go, let go, let go! Imagine yourself melting away and merging with that which is so much greater than yourself. Imagine yourself being just a drop of "Mah" riding in the waves. Now breathe in "Mah" the water of Mem, breathe out "Mah" the water of Mem. "Mah-Mah" "Mah-Mah" Continue four more breaths and imagine unifying yourself with all of Israel through your inhalation and exhalation. Get back in touch with the love you have for your most beloved person in life. Imagine expanding that love to include all of Israel, even those whose outlook or lifestyle is opposed to yours. We are all most beloved children of Hashem. When we unite like "one person with one heart"[9] then we can unite Hashem in the world. שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל הַשֵם אֱלֹקֵינוּ הַשֵם אֶחָד – "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad" – Hear oh Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One!"[10]


After the Holocaust, R. Yosef Kahaneman zt'l , the Ponevezhe Rav began looking for Jewish children who had survived the war. It was known that some of the children had ended up in churches and were being raised as Christians. The Rav encountered one church that denied the existence and presence of Jewish children within their midst... He was granted permission to enter the children's quarters to inspect for himself – when he entered he began calling out “Shema Yisrael” and instinctively many of the children raised their hands to cover their eyes and started calling out “mama! mama!”

The “Shema Yisrael” stems from the deepest level of the Jewish soul, the יְחִידָה – yechidah where all Jews are united with each other and Hashem. The gematria (numerical value) of אֶחָד – echad and אַהָבַה – ahava is identical, they are both thirteen. For this reason before in the introductory paragraph before the recital of Shema we pray for the love of Hashem and His unity, in the secret of “Unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name.”[11] Moreover, the section of love “And you shall love…” follows directly the Shema Yisrael verse. We thus find that the Shema Yisrael is sandwiched between "Love and Love."

With every recital of Shema, we bring down Hashem’s light upon ourselves and in the world. Believing that Hashem's Oneness, unites us all, and that all forces in the world are included in His Oneness, is our ultimate service of unifying Hashem. This emunah is our beacon of light through the dark times of our lives.

[1] Bereishit 49:1
[2] The Shlah HaKodesh, Parashat Vayechi, Derech Chaim, Tochachat Mussar
[3] Yalkut Shimoni Devarim, Chapter 32, Allusion 946
[4] Rambam, Laws of Recital of Shema 1:4
[5] Bereishit 49:2
[6] In the previous verse, Ibid. 1
[7] The Siddur, the paragraph preceding the Recital of Shema
[8] The Shlah HaKodesh, Mesechet Yoma, Derech Chaim, Tochachat Mussar
[9] Rashi, Shemot 19:2 explains that we reached this level at the giving of the Torah
[10] Devarim 6:4
[11] Ba’al Shem Tov on the Torah, Parashat Vaetchanan