Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bricks of Shiny Sapphires

Tu B'Shevat Seder at B'erot
I’m writing to you from some place far away from home, on the run, from the skies, spreading the light of the Land of Israel. This week’s parasha meditation is about how to turn the brickwork of our pain and suffering into the most brilliant shiny sapphires – lucid like the heavens. I pray that Hashem will turn the pain of my homesickness into bright glowing words of Torah inspiring everyone who come to learn from me.

Shabbat Shalom!
With Blessings of the Torah and the Land,

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

Read Rebbetzin's Commentary on Haftorat Mishpatim - "Overcoming Negative Patterns and Addictions"

Parasha Meditation Mishpatim
Shemot 21:1-24:18
This week’s parasha contains one of the strangest “visions” of Hashem in the Torah. When Moshe, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended the mountain they saw G-d and sapphire brickwork under His “feet”.[1]
וַיִּרְאוּ אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם לָטֹהַר  - ספר שמות פרק כד:י
“They saw the G-d of Israel; and under His feet was like sapphire brick-work and the likeness of shamayim (the heavens) for clearness…”[2] The following verse describes how G-d “did not lay his hand on the Nobles of Israel, [although they beheld G-d, while eating and drinking.”[3] These two Torah verses, juxtaposes the seemingly mundane (bricks, eating and drinking) with a description of “seeing” Hashem. Although even the “mundane” must be sanctified, and as I’m teaching during my current North America tour ( that eating and drinking can be a deep way of connecting to Hashem. Yet, as Rashi explains, “They deserved that G-d should stretch forth His hand against them, because they gazed at G-d intimately as [though their association with Him was] a matter of eating and drinking.”[4]

Let us try to understand the vision of these beautiful “sapphire bricks” in Hashem’s presence, “below His feet”. According to Rashi, the vision of a serene image of Hashem becomes a stark reminder of the harshest realities of Jewish suffering in the world. He explains that Hashem, had placed the bricks before Him during the slavery in Mitzrayim (Egypt), to remember the sufferings of Israel.[5] Although it is comforting to know that G-d feels our pain, there is no escaping the reality of suffering in this vision. The vision reminds us that we do not connect to Hashem by losing touch with reality – even the most painful reality, of this world. Rather those very experiences are themselves “before Him,” and we can approach G-d through our pain and weaknesses.

Yet, this brickwork being a stark reminder of Mitzrayim is only half the story. The brickwork itself is shining and clear like the heavens! Why is this brick so beautiful? Rashi explains that when the Jews were redeemed from Egypt, there was joy and light before Him.[6] This very brickwork, which had been dark, coarse and a source of suffering (both for us and for Hashem) itself began to shine a brilliant light – to radiate joy. This is so important. This is salvation.

Sit comfortable with your back straight and close your eyes. Take several deep breaths and clear your mind. Do an internal body-scan and get in touch with any pain you may hold, in any part of yourself. As you continue breathing slowly, get in touch with this pain and try to sense the root of your pain. Perhaps a headache could be caused by stress, a stomach pain by not feeling appreciated etc. The first step before turning to Hashem for help is to first realize that you are in pain, that there is a lack – an emptiness inside. The second step is to recognize that you cannot save yourself from this place. No slave ever escaped Egypt. Get in touch with your smallness and your helplessness! The third step is to feel how Hashem’s presence is with you in your pain. Keep breathing as you open yourself to feel how even and especially within your deepest pain, Hashem’s light is right there. Now ask Hashem to remove your pain and its deepest root. Imagine your hurt being uprooted like a tree, as Hashem’s light fills it with His glorious presence, and the pain gets lifted away. Now, get in touch with your feelings in this place, do you feel lighter, relieved? In case you still feel the pain, repeat visualizing Hashem’s light inside of your pain, uprooting it – removing it. It may take repeated tries several times, as our pain contains multiple layers.

Now imagine the shining brilliant brickwork of sapphire, with sparkling blue colors lucid like the heavens in purity on a bright clear day. Try to hold this vision for five slow breaths or more. Get in touch with the joy of the brilliant sapphire imagery. Allow this joy penetrate your entire being. Delight in the beauty that you behold. It is the beauty of bringing Hashem into every aspect of your life. Slowly tap your feet on the ground and when you are ready open your eyes.

The sapphire brickwork was made from Israel’s suffering. Only Hashem knows the secret of how to make our enslavement beautiful. He can transform– that very brick – that very point of pain – the source of the pain itself, to become a source of joy and light. He grants us joy to keep going, to live more fully. He endows us with light to see more clearly in the future – to see the sparks hidden in the lowest places – to see how G-d is really in our lives – in every aspect of it. He teaches us to see that we needed to go through all the painful places, that they were truly, in a hidden way, sources of light and joy in our lives.

When we try to save ourselves, the best we can do is to make the brick go away – by forgetting, by filling in the emptiness with something fake. In the end, the awareness comes back, and we can choose again whether to forget or try to open up to Hashem, and trust that He can save us in the deepest way. The bricks of Egypt, the place of tumah – (impurity), become the building material for the Beit HaMikdash – (Temple), the place of joy. The brick becomes “like Shamayim for Tohar.” According to Rashi, “Tohar means barur (clarified) and lucid.” Clarification is a slow process, the struggle of a life’s journey. Yet this is the only way to find the joy that is not merely in spite of tears, but because of them.

May Hashem reveal to us the joy within all of our tears soon in our days!

[1] Adapted from “A Vision of G-d's Bricks” (5759) by David H. from Yeshivat Bat Ayin
Shemot 24:10
Ibid. 24:11
Rashi ad loco
Ibid. 24:10

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