Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Visualizing the Pillars of the Temple Gate

B'erot Trip to the Tomb of Rachel
When I came to the Kotel (Wailing Wall) about thirty-two years ago as a teenager newly graduated from high-school, the beauty of the golden Dome of the Rock attracted my eyes. I had just met a girl named Chava, from Diaspora Yeshiva, who was trying to mekarev me (bring me close to Torah). I remember that when I marveled at the beauty of the golden mosque to Chava, her response surprised me greatly. “Soon, the dome will be destroyed, and in its place will be built the most beautiful Temple for Hashem,” were Chava’s words. I couldn’t believe what she had just said, so softly and matter of factly. How could she know that this most gorgeous building, with inlaid stones of blue and gold, would be destroyed? And how could she be happy about this forthcoming destruction? I was appalled. Here, I came from the tolerant Denmark. I believed in the spirituality and rights of all people, and then my own religion again showed itself to be utterly narrow-minded and chauvinistic about its own rites, to the exclusion of everything which is beautiful and valuable to others. I had no idea of what the Temple represented in Judaism, and why it had been the major part of our prayer for thousands of years. I didn’t even know it was mentioned in our prayers at all. As I started to learn in Yeshiva, I still did not understand why we were mourning on Tisha B’Av. Over the years I gradually got an idea of what the Temple is all about.

I hope through the meditation mentioned below, we can come closer to understand and imagine the splendor of the Feminine In-dwelling Presence returning to the world. May we merit to experience all our visualizations in actual reality!

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Click here to read "The Shabbat of Vision" - Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Devarim

Parasha Meditation Devarim
Devarim 1:1-3:22
During the Shabbat before Tish’a B’Av, Hashem grants us a vision of the third Temple.[1] Therefore, This Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon – meaning the Shabbat of Vision. It is also named so, because our haftorah relates Yesha’yahu’s “Chazon” – vision of the destruction of Jerusalem. However, other shabbats are not named by the first word of their haftorah.[2] Therefore, it makes sense that this Shabbat is named for the vision of the rebirth that is destined to follow the destruction of the Temple. The purpose of the vision is not just to comfort us, but to inspire us and elevate us to turn the vision of the Third Temple into physical reality. In our time, visualization – the ability to see mental images in your mind – has become a very popular tool, for attracting success and prosperity. When you visualize a new reality, you internalize it in a way that merely thinking or talking about it won't accomplish. It becomes something that you know, that you can relate to and understand.[3]

Prime time for Seeking out Tzion – our Holy Temple
Rabbi Yochanan explained: It is written (Yirmiyah 30:17), “For I will restore health to you, and from your wounds I will heal you; this is the word of G-d. They called you an outcast, saying, ‘She is Tzion; none seek her.’” It says, ‘None seek her,’ from which we learn that she requires seeking.[4]
We are called to seek out, learn about, desire and visualize Tzion – our Holy Temple. This Shabbat when every Jewish soul receive a glimpse of our world as a Divine home – a place where all G-d’s creatures will experience His presence, is the prime time for seeking out Tzion, and imprint our super-conscious experience into our conscious awareness. Through our effort to visualize in our minds and meditate on what our soul is seeing, we have the ability to shift our energy and become empowered to realize our vision in actual reality. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Rebbe of Lubavitch emphasized the importance of meditating this Shabbat on a vision of a House which will fuse the upper and lower worlds, spiritual and physical reality, in permanent union.

Visualizing the Pillars of the Temple Gate
I’m finding it a bit difficult to create the kind of meditation that will mirror the vision of our souls during Shabbat Chazon. On the one hand the above description is very abstract and difficult to bring down into clear steps of visualization. On the other hand, trying to visualize the intricate details of the building of the Temple also makes me feel lost. So I decided to focus on visualizing the two pillars that Shlomo built at the entrance of the Temple. “He erected the pillars for the hall of the sanctuary, and he erected the right-hand pillar and called it ‘Yachin’ – (establishment), and he erected the left-hand pillar and called it ‘Boaz.’ – (strength)”[5] The names of these two pillars seem to describe vision rather than function. These pillars “were at the entrance to the Temple, and he called them by names to create a positive sign. He called one ‘Yachin’, an expression of establishment, that the Temple should be established forever … ‘Boaz’ is an expression of strength, a contraction of ‘Bo Oz [strength within]’, meaning that G-d should place in it strength and endurance…”[6]

Yachin and Boaz – Signs of Eternal Strength
Those names did express a vision and promise to everyone who would transit within their gate. These two pillars represent the transition from mundane to holy. Their names taught every Jew who passed between them, “We are invested with Divine strength, and we will be established forever. There will never come a time when entering this Sanctuary will fail to transport you into another realm, and there will never come a time when this portal will cease to be available to any and all.”[7]

Their Everlasting Power Engraved within our Soul
However, King Shlomo’s glorious Temple was destroyed on Tisha b’Av nearly two thousand years ago, and with it these pillars of faith. So was the promise of the pillars names of faith in vain? Were the names of promise for eternal establishment and strength deceiving? There must be a way to explain the eternal strength of these twin-pillars. Perhaps the everlasting power of Yachin and Boaz is engraved within our soul. Whenever the Temple would stand high in Jerusalem, these pillars had a physical expression, whereas during the two thousand years of exile, the spiritual energy of these pillars would continue to inspire every Jewish soul with vision and faith in the Temple’s forthcoming rebuilding.

Sit down in a relaxing place and center yourself. Imagine inhaling Hashem’s life-giving light and exhaling tension, pressure and worry.

1. Keep breathing slowly while inhaling י –Y-a, exhaling כין – Chin four times, think about something strong establishment while you breathe.

2. Now change to inhaling בו – Bo, exhaling עז – As for four times, think about inner strength and endurance.

3. Try to visualize the two great copper pillars at the opening of the Temple, towering nine meters high – about four and a half times the height of a person.

4. Visualize the שושן – lily on top of each of the pillars with its six petals completing the pillars Yachin on the right side of the Temple gate and Boaz on the left.

5. Try to imagine the glow of the full moon connecting with Yachin on the right, and the power of the Sun connecting with Boaz on the left.

6. Imagine the opening of the Temple and the light exuding from it. Try to feel how it makes you feel, how it lifts you up to a new you. Imagine your heart expanding and really feeling the love of every Jew. Ask yourself, “What do I aspire to be? Which step do I need to take to get where I really want to be?”

7. Take your time to imagine going through the gate, really visualize the small figure of yourself entering between the pillars of Yachin & Boaz. What do you experience? Try to imagine the visions/colors, sounds, feelings, smells and even the taste of the air.

8. Make a resolution. Promise yourself and Hashem to make a positive change in your life that will bring you closer to who you really want to be, and help you bring about the rebuilding of the Temple, both in your heart and in the world.

Shabbat Chazon is greater than any other Shabbat of the year. “There was never a holiday for Israel like the day that the Temple was destroyed.” The reason can be understood in light of the Jewish law that a person is obligated to have relations with his wife before traveling on a journey.[8] The last moment before Hashem’s Shechina (Indwelling presence) takes leave of Israel; there is a greater closeness and intimacy than ever. This time when Shabbat Chazon is on Tisha b'Av itself, this moment of closeness is even extended. Let us take advantage of this Shabbat to visualize all the true goodness for which we are yearning! 

[1] Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, also quoted in the Tzemach Tzedek's notes to Eichah, Nach, Vol. II, p. 1097, in the footnotes.
Except for Shabbat Nachamu, “the Shabbat of consolation” in the name of the first word of Haftorat V’etchanan.
See Remez Sasson, Visualize and Achieve, .
Babylonian Talmud, Sukah 41a.
I Melachim 7:21.
Radak, I Melachim 7:21
Yachin and Boaz: The Pillars of our Faith by Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner,
Rosh Beit Midrash, Zichron Dov Yeshiva University Torah Mitzion Beit Midrash of Toronto.
Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta, Ohev Yisrael, Parashat Devarim.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Purpose for Every Place on our Path

This week at B'erot: Creative Ulpan from the Bible
Jews like to travel. Since my early childhood, my parents took us children to visit different countries in addition to our yearly trips to Israel to visit our grandparents ob”m. I still have a shelf full of national dolls that I collected during all my childhood travels. I’m sure it expanded my horizon to be exposed to different cultures and languages from an early age. At every stop on our journeys there is something to receive and elevate. Sometimes we Jews had to flee from place to place, during our long-winded history of exile and persecution. Each location, involved a particular rectification for our souls. My grandfather, Meir Erteschick, ob”m was born in Poland, developed his business in Italy, found his wife in Germany and settled in Denmark, before making Aliyah to Israel. He lived in several other places that I can’t remember, but I know he was fluent in eleven languages. Before settling in Bat Ayin, we lived two years in N.Y. and two years in Memphis TN. Not being American born, I really learned from the inside about Jewish city life, and also about the mentality of “out of towners.” This experience has greatly helped me relate to my American students of various backgrounds.

Now we feel very settled in Bat Ayin and hope to never have to uproot from here. Bat Ayin is like a magnet attracting so many sparks to elevate. Still, Hashem guides me on my yearly whirlwind North American journeys, teaching Torah and extracting sparks. I’m so happy when I hear how many of the women I meet on my tours are making Aliyah – (immigrating) to Israel. I know there is a reason for every place I have lived, as we come into life with part of our soul missing. Every stop on our journeys is Divinely guided, for that sake of redeeming these missing soul parts. We have the ability to elevate these sparks, when we accept and cope with whatever place and situation we are placed. Read on to learn Torah sources and a meditation to ingrain within us the Emunah that there is a purpose for every place on our path.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

Read Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Masai: The Way to Redemption paved by the Jewish Family

Parasha Meditation Matot/Masai
Matot: Bamidbar 30:1-32:42 
Masai: Bamidbar 33:1-36:13
Following the Cloud Throughout the Journeys of our Lives
“The children of Israel traveled from Ra’amses and encamped in Sukkot. They traveled from Sukkot and encamped in Etham, at the edge of the wilderness. They travelled from Etham, and turned back unto Pi hachirot, which is before Ba’al-Zephon; and they encamped before Migdol...”[1] Why does the Torah go into trouble by keep mentioning the place from where they journeyed – a mere repetition of the previous arrival place? Sforno explains that both the encamping and decamping were very trying. It was extremely difficult to have to leave a place suddenly without much time to prepare. Sometimes the next location would be worse than the place they came from, and sometimes the opposite. This is why at each stop, it mentions both the place they left and their arrival place;[2] teaching us about their steadfast Emunah to follow the cloud. “By Hashem’s word they camped, and by Hashem's word they traveled.”[3] I admire my students, many of whom still follow the cloud, moving from place to place according to the signs they receive from Hashem.

Israel’s Desert Wanderings Paved the Way for Future Exiles
The travels of the children of Israel in the wilderness may be a pre-curser that paved the way for the Jews to have the strength to go through centuries of exile, in the desert of the Diaspora. These were also wanderings in “places of snakes and vipers, scorpions and thirst,”[4] where our very survival was miraculous. The encampment in one country, and the necessity to leave on sudden notice, was like our sojourn in the desert, by Divine decree. After making Aliyah and living as a family in Israel for seven years, it was quite a shock when my husband received a court-order to work in a physician shortage area in USA, in order to pay back his conditional scholarship. Returning back to Israel once the service had ended was also not easy. It seems like North America holds on to people and makes it hard to leave its comforts. Perhaps this has begun to change, as the sparks are being emptied out of there, like in Egypt.[5]

Extracting Holy Sparks
The Parasha opens up by listing the forty-two different stations that the Israelites encamped during their forty years desert wandering. Why did the children of Israel stay very briefly in some of the places, and in others, such as Kadesh, they stayed for nineteen years?[6] The reason is that Israel’s journey in the wilderness was in order to extract holy sparks. Desolate places void of people are hosts to snakes, vipers and scorpions and impure forces that subjugate holy sparks. Hashem’s people had to wander there in order to extract these trapped sparks. Therefore, Israel would encamp one year in one place, while only twelve hours in another. The length of stay at each place was according to how much time was needed to extract the particular sparks trapped in each place.

The Torah states: “These are the journeys of the children of Israel, who came out of the land of Egypt, by their hosts under the hand of Moshe and Aharon.” This verse teaches us about the Israelites qualifications to extract holy sparks.
1. “…who came out of the land of Egypt” – They had been purified by the iron furnace of their suffering in Egypt.
2. “…by their hosts” – They were united as a complete unite consisting of six hundred thousand Israelites, which connected them to the Shechina (Feminine in-dwelling presence).
3. “…under the hand of Moshe and Aharon.” Moshe is considered the tree through which the six hundred thousand Israelite souls would shine. Whenever they would travel, everything holy similar to the holiness of the Israelites would be attached to them.[7]

Impure Environment – Perfect Backdrop for Elevation
The higher something is, the lower it falls. Today we are also surrounded by impurity all around us, making our world filled with negative lower forces – a perfect breeding place for fallen sparks. By strengthening Emunah, and actively searching for Hashem in whatever situation and place we may be lost, we extract and elevate sparks.

Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes and breathe slowly. Let all thoughts and background noises pass through you, as you inhale and exhale slowly and rhythmically.

Step 1. Visualize the word מַסְעַי – masai – my journeys. Inhale מַסְ – mas, exhale עַי – ai.

Step 2. Repeat over and over forty-two times, or as long as you have the strength.

Step 3.Visualize the mem as a flowing stream of water, the samech as a protective enclosure during all your journeys. Reach new vistas with the eye of the ayin, and integrate it into your personal experience with the possessive yud, which stands for “my.” מַסְעַי – masai – my journeys.

Step 4. Understand that Hashem brings you to key places, ordeals and crossroads in life in order to elevate you.

Step 5. Go back in time, to the first place you remember living. Realize how this place was an opportunity for tikun (rectification) and self-perfection.

Step 6. Think about each of the challenges you faced in this place.

Step 7. In your mind’s eye send Hashem’s light to each of these challenges, accepting that they were Divinely sent in order to purify you.

Step 8. Try to access in which particular way each of these challenges helped you grow, which character-trait did they help you develop?

Step 9. Reframe each challenge as being the best and most inspiring, since it was sent by Hashem as an opportunity to connect even deeper with G-d and with the Divine aspect of yourself.

You may repeat Step 5-9 with other places you lived, possibly in subsequent meditation sessions. Complete the meditation by sending Hashem’s light to each of the places you meditated on, and then send Hashem’s light to the place you live in now, realizing that where you are at this point, is only due to everything you have gone through on your previous journeys.

“These are the journeys of the Israelites, who had left Egypt”[8] on the way to the Holy Land. The forty-two journeys from Egypt to the Land of Israel parallel the phases each person experiences throughout life. Each journey is about freeing ourselves, transcending the constraints (Mitzrayim) which conceals G-d and His Divine light from us. Throughout each of our journeys we have the ability to subdue and sublimate the forces of evil that hold us back from achieving our spiritual potential. Let us be mindful throughout our journeys and phases in life, so that we may learn to harmonize between our body and soul, through open revelation of Hashem!

[1] Bamidbar 33:5-7.
Sforno, Bamidbar 33:2.
Bamidbar 9:20.
Devarim 8:15.
See Shemot 12:36: “They despoiled the Egyptians.” Rashi: “They emptied it.” See also Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver, Beit Olamin, p. 134b: “The children of Israel elevated with them all he holy sparks that were in the husk of Egypt.” This is why it is not permitted to return to Egypt, since there are no more sparks to extract there. (Rabbi Naftali Hertz, Emek Hamelech, sha’ar 14, chapter 117).
See Rashi, Devarim 1:46.  
[7] This entire paragraph is based on Ohr Hachayim, (Rabbi Chayim Atar) on the Torah, Bamidbar 33:1.
Bamidbar 33:1.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cracking the Nut of Jealousy and Anger

 Special hike to the caves near Bat Ayin
I’ve always been a “peacenik,” even before I turned teenager. I never could understand why the whole world wasn’t able to get along in universal peace and brotherhood. I grew up in the aftermath of the 60's and had badges of “Make love not War” everywhere. At our family dinner tables we had long discussions. I couldn’t relate when my father mentioned “a harsh and cruel enemy.” Then my mother said something so simple I’ll never forget it. “As long as you sisters won’t stop fighting, there won’t be peace in the world.” Baruch Hashem as much as I used to fight with my sister, we are now the very best and closest friends. So now wouldn’t my mother agree that we are ready for redemption and world-peace? Actually, this week’s parasha interestingly enough teaches that sometimes it is necessary to distance ourselves from negative relationships even if it’s your own brother or sister. Sometimes a violent act, which may seem cruel on the outside, brings the greatest peace in the world, when the inside intention is most selfless and holy. It’s hard to understand, but our Parasha clearly teaches that Pinchas from the tribe of Levi brought peace by slaying the prince of the tribe of Shimon, his brother. I invite you to read on to get a glimpse on why, and practice the meditation for rectified jealousy.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read "Soul Reincarnations" - Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Pinchas

Parasha Meditation Pinchas
Bamidbar 25:10-29:39
Cracking the Nut of Jealousy and Anger,
Removing the Peal of Judgment

Severing Unhealthy Relationship for the sake of Restoring Peace
Parashat Pinchas teaches us about rectifying jealousy and anger – קנא – kina, by unifying judgment – din – דין with its source in Hashem’s infinite kindness – chesed – חסד. By separating the undesirable elements of the tribe of Shimon from the Jewish people, and thus severing the tribe of Levi from its unhealthy relationship with Shimon, Pinchas succeeded in restoring Shalom to the world. By rectifying their innate attribute of zealous anger, the Levites through their Temple service, serve as a conduit for peace and brotherhood for the entire people. Pinchas, did not act out of personal spite, but only for the sake of allowing Hashem’s kindness to shine, by means of removing the blocks standing in the way. By expressing rectified kina – (jealousy/vengeance), completely devoid of any ego, he unified judgment with mercy, and was consequently rewarded with Hashem’s “covenant of Shalom (peace).”[1] Shalom with its letter ש – shin standing for אש – esh – fire and its letter מ –mem standing for מים – mayim – water denotes the unification of opposite elements. Pinchas also succeeded in rectifying the previous expressions of anger of his tribe Levi, after Levi and Shimon took vengeance on the people of Shechem for raping their sister, Dinah.[2] When the tribes of Shimon and Levi are joined together, their tendency for anger and vengeance can go overboard. Therefore, on his deathbed, Ya’acov reproached them saying: “Shimon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence is their kinship.”[3]

Overcoming Anger through Invoking Hashem’s Perpetual Presence
The word קנא – kina usually translated as jealousy is also linked to judgment and anger. The root of this word is mentioned three times in the opening verse of Parashat Pinchas.[4] Its gematria (numerical value), 151 (kuf =100, nun =50, alef = 1) equals that of the name of G-d E-k-ye – א-ק-י-ה when each of its letters are spelled out as follows alef spelled out alef, peh, lamed =111+ heh spelled out heh, heh = 10 + yud spelled out yud, vav, dalet = 20 + heh spelled out heh, heh = 10. Together (111+10+ 20+10) adds up to 151 the exact gematria of the word קנא – kina. This name of G-d (א-ק-י-ה) which was first revealed to Moshe at the burning bush, gives us the reassurance that Hashem will always be with us.[5] Therefore, meditating on this name enables us to overcome anger.[6]

Meditative Permutations for Overcoming the Three Aspects of Kina

There are three types of vengeance alluded to in the story of Pinchas: “By avenging,” “My vengeance,” and “I did not destroy the children of Israel in My vengeance.”[7] The root קנא – kina mentioned three times in our verse alludes to three aspects of anger/ jealousy/vengeance which can be overcome by meditating on three different kinds of permutations of Hashem’s names. The first is the spelled out name E-k-ye א-ק-י-ה as mentioned above. Arizal recommends, when one gets angry, to meditate during the morning prayer on the Name Ekyeh spelled out. He reveals that the numerical value of this Name קנא – 151 is the same as that of the Hebrew word for “anger” כעס – ka’as with the kollel.[8] The second permutation is more complicated. Arizal mentions to meditate on the squared name of E-k-ye א-ק-י-ה which also adds up to קנא – 151 during the afternoon prayer. This entails meditating 1 time on alef squared, 25 times on heh squared, 100 times on yud squared and 25 times on heh squared (1+25+100+25=151).

In order to obliterate the third aspect and the root of קנא, which is being over judgmental, Arizal recommends to meditate during the evening prayers, on the Divine Names Adni Elokim, (65+86) the combined numerical values of which also equal 151. Note that both of these names denote judgment.

Cracking the Nut of Jealousy and Anger, Removing the Peal of Judgment
The three aspects of vengeance are alluded to in the verse: “I descended to the garden of nuts.”[9] The numerical value of the word for “garden of” ginat, gimel-nun-tav is 453, which is 3 times 151. The nut actually has three klipot (husks) the outer soft husk that disintegrates when the nut is ripe, the hard outer shell, and the soft inner peal that adheres to the nut itself. In order to reveal the inner goodness of the soul, we must discard each of the shells of קנא – kina. Learning not to judge others is the most difficult aspect of קנא – kina to overcome. It is characterized by the inner peal which we usually eat together with the nut. Although I didn’t find in the Arizal’s writing explicit differentiation between each of the three aspects of קנא – kina, it seems to me that the outer aspect is anger, going deeper into the anger one arrives at jealousy, underneath which the negative emotion of being overly judgmental is situated. Pinchas was able to sweeten the judgment in its root through his deepest care and mercy for the children of Israel, who were dying in the plague. By acting with this motivation, he channeled judgment to serve as a means of recognizing good and evil and separating between them. Thus he succeeded in alleviating Hashem’s anger, stop the plague,[10] and atone for the children of Israel.[11]

Make yourself comfortable in your place, and take some deep healing breaths. Keep breathing as you try to remember last time you felt jealous, or any particular time that you especially remember being jealous at someone. Jealousy is a combination of fear and anger. Fear of losing something, and anger at someone who seems to be taking away what you feel belongs only to you.

Recognize and accept your emotions. Tell yourself, as you breathe deeply, even if I am jealous I still truly love and appreciate myself. Get in touch with and dissect your feeling. Ask yourself whether your jealousy consists of more anger or fear, and why. Where in your body exactly does your jealousy reside? A gripping sensation in your stomach is a sign of fear, burning tightness in your shoulders and jar is most likely anger. Breathe deeply and relax your jar, shoulders and stomach. Don’t allow your face to show jealousy or anger.

Identify what your jealousy is teaching you about yourself and what is important to you. If someone talking to a friend of yours makes you jealous, personal relationships may be important to you. If you’re jealous about money, you may have an underlying need for financial security. Ask yourself, “Why am I jealous over this? What is making me jealous? What am I trying to keep? Why do I feel threatened?” When you begin to understand what makes you jealous, you can begin to take positive steps to maintain those things, without the cloud of negative emotion that accompanies jealousy.

Search for underlying false beliefs that make your jealousy flare up. Everyone walk around with negative “stories” such as, “I don’t deserve to get married.” “People only befriend me when they can get something out of me.” You can change your feelings by changing your “stories.” Choose nurturing and supportive beliefs and gradually your anger and jealousy will disappear.

Now visualize the name of Hashem E-k-ye א-ק-י-ה. The letter א-alef- then ה-heh, then י-yud and again ה-heh. Inhale א-alef, exhale ה-heh, inhale י-yud, exhale ה-heh. Repeat four times. If you are able to, visualize the name E-k-ye א-ק-י-ה spelled out, א-ל-ף – ה-ה – י-ו-ד – ה-ה with appropriate breathing. Inhale and feel how Hashem is always with you. Exhale feel how He provides you with exactly what you need in order to fulfill your mission in life.

Look for your own good qualities and make a mental list of all the blessings in your life for which you are grateful. Keep breathing slowly and deeply as you thank Hashem for each of His gifts to you. When you emerge from the meditation into real life, put on a non-jealous facade, while you work on overcoming jealousy. Eventually, working your way through your feelings, the facade will become real. In the meantime you will protect yourself from appearing jealous to others.

An additional way to overcome jealousy and anger is through immersing in a mikvah. The numerical value of the word mikveh מקוה (mem-kuf-vav-heh), is also 151, the same as that of the word for jealousy קנא – kina, or anger כעס --ka’as, plus the kolel.[12] After working on your jealousy and anger and after trying the above meditation, going to the mikvah will work wonders, try it!

[1] Bamidbar 25:12.
Bereishit 34:25.
Ibid. 49:5.
Bamidbar 25:11.
Shemot 3:14, “אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה”.
Based on Arizal, Sha’ar HaPesukim, Parashat Pinchas.
Bamidbar 25:11.
Including counting the word itself as one. Arizal, Sha’ar Ruach HaKodesh, Remedy #13.
Song of Songs 6:11.
Bamidbar 25:8.
Ibid 13.
Arizal, Sha’ar Ruach HaKodesh, Remedy #15.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Transforming Curses into Blessings

One more incredible sunset from Bat Ayin
When I was a little girl growing up in Denmark I remember the song “Mah Tovu, Ohalecha Ya’acov….”[1] – “How goodly are your tents Ya’acov…” My sisters and I used to sing this in rounds from the back of the car when our parents where driving us to our summerhouse. I used to love the tune even if I had no idea what the words mean. Isn’t it amazing how these beautiful words came out of the mouth of the wicked sorcerer Bilam who desired to obliterate Israel with curses? Hashem transformed his evil eye to goodness. We too have the Divine power train our eye to see only goodness in others and transform curses into blessings.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

Click here to read "Walking Modestly with Hashem" - Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Balak

Parasha Meditation, Parashat Balak
Bamidbar 22:1-25:9
Unified Vision – The Source of our Blessing
We arrive at Parashat Balak during the zenith of the summer month Tamuz – the season of the eyes, and rectification of vision.[2] It is the time to guard our eyes and see only the good in the world and in other people. The ability to guard and focus one’s eyesight correctly is the rectified “sense” of sight.[3]

The gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew word for eye עין – Ayin is 130, its small gematria being 13. Thirteen is a very interesting number; it bonds multiplicity into oneness. This is why both the Hebrew word אהבה – ahava – love and אחד – echad – one share the numerical value of thirteen. When we unite in love, the multiplicity of our individualities merges to become one. Our twelve tribes are connected through their one father Ya’acov/Yisrael. While Jews look to make many into one, non-Jews look to make the one (G-d) into many, (trinity). Therefore, they cannot relate to the holiness of number thirteen, which is considered an “unlucky number,” in non-Jewish circles.

In this week’s parasha there is a contrast between the gentile and Jewish relationship with our eyes. Bilam “lifted his eyes and saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes”[4] Rashi explains that he wished to cast an evil eye upon them.[5] Casting an evil eye on people is essentially cutting off their spiritual channel to the oneness of G-d – the source of their blessings. It is interesting to notice that the root word עין – eye which is the focal point of the parasha occurs exactly thirteen times in Parashat Balak. The attempt to apply witchcraft and curse on the Jewish people by separating their individual diversity from Hashem’s oneness backfired and turned into the thirteen attributes of mercy unifying Hashem – the source of our blessing.

Cursing is to Separate from the Source of Blessing
There are several words for curse in Hebrew, the most common is klalah from the root קלל – kalal which is etymologically related to the word קל meaning light – taking someone lightly and disrespecting him. The word for curse used in Parashat Balak is ארה – ara. I’m trying to figure out why that word means curse. It has the same letters as the Hebrew word for light אור – ohr, except it is missing the vav. This letter also means “and” and has the ability to connect. Truth is connecting all the strings and seeing the whole picture. This is why the vav is called the letter of truth in Kabbalah.[6] The word for light in Hebrew is always written with the vav, even though vav’s are often missing in the Hebrew language when the vav is used as an “Oh” sound. Perhaps the deeper meaning of the kind of curse Bilam was trying to cast on Israel – the ארה – ara without the vav – was to disconnect them from each other and Hashem – the source of their blessing.

The Eye as the Source of Curse or Blessing
According to the western scientific view, the eye is merely a passive sensor of light. However, in Chassidut, the eye has power to influence and change reality.[7] It has the ability to affect the world for good or evil. The evil eye is the source of all curses and can cause people to lose money, get sick, or become depressed etc. The power of the positive is always greater. Looking at someone with love and care has tremendous healing powers, and brings about happiness, prosperity and blessing. You can get a feel for how people's eyes send out messages, by gazing at the eyes of a few different friends and opponents! You can also work on maximizing your own power of blessing through practicing looking with eyes of love.

This meditation is designed to strengthen your power of blessing by guiding you to practice giving out “ayin tova” – the good eye which bestows healing goodness and blessings towards others. The first four steps are practice steps to help strengthen the power of your eyes. The two first steps can be practiced separately at any place and time, not necessarily at the same time as step 3 and 4.

Step 1. Practice focusing your gaze on one point, and see how long you can hold the gaze. (You could practice this whenever you are waiting for something).

Step 2. Shift your gaze from the one point to the whole of which the point is part, then back to the one point. Repeat several times

Step 3. Draw a blue Magen David on a white surface, and look at it for at least two minutes.

Step 4. Close your eyes and visualize the Magen David, try to hold the vision for as long as possible.

Step 5. Look at a person in your life that you love very much. It could be a spouse or child, sibling, parent or close friend. Tune into the person’s face and look for the glow of Hashem’s light in the face. Imagine expanding this glow of light. If you can’t find the person’s glow or he or she is not well, practice sending lights of ray to that person through your eyes. Look for where the person is in need of light and focus your light in that particular place.

Step 6. When meditating alone visualize people in your life that you love and imagine expanding their glow of light or sending them light to the places they need. Visualize how the person you love is gradually becoming more filled with light, life, health and happiness! Repeat this exercise as much as possible, until it becomes natural for you to send light whenever you are communicating with others.

We also need to practice seeing our own light rather than being too perfectionistic, beating ourselves up, for not being this-enough, or that-enough, for not living up to our unrealistically high expectations of ourselves. What about beginning to bless ourselves instead of sending ourselves negative energy? Instead of “I should not have responded so judgmentally to that person and I can’t believe I did not learn from my last experience. I deserve to feel terrible for the rest of the day, and re-play the conversation over and over again in my head,” what about transforming that self-inflicted curse into a simple blessing? Let us send ourselves transformative lights of blessings! For example we can bless ourselves something like: “May I be empowered to cultivate more mindful speech! May I be blessed with the patience to really hear and accept others!”

Taking the Leap of Choice from Curse to Blessing
Curses whether in the form of berating oneself or hoping that something bad happens to someone we do not like, are ultimately destructive, and limit our spiritual and emotional development. However, blessings allow for mindfulness, gentle self-evaluation, forgiveness, and moving on. How would our moment-to-moment life experience change if curses were not an option and if God only allowed us to bless ourselves and bless others, to offer ourselves and other people mindful hope for mindful change?

[1] Bamidbar 24:5.
[2] Sefer Yetzira, Chapter 5:4.
[3] Rav Ginsburgh, Gal Einai, .
[4] Bamidbar 24:2.
[5] Rashi, Ibid.
[6] Zohar, part 2, 169a.
[7] See for example Kedushat HaLevi, Parashat Balak.