Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Battling our Spiritual Enemies

Grape Gathering Festival 2012
Dearest Friends,
Since Parashat Ki Tetze is my birthday parasha, I connect with this parasha in a special and personal way. The parasha opens with going out to battle. A recurrent theme in my life is to always be challenged to struggle against obstacles including people opposing my work. I have always been a fighter – from my teenage years at the dinner table, discussing Middle East politics with my father, (at that time I defended the “Palestinian” rights oy!) – to fighting the authorities for building permit for Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin (Looking forward to having that battle behind me). Parashat Ki Tetze is one of the busiest parashot in the Torah. It includes more mitzvot than in any other parsha – 74 mitzvot (27 positive and 47 nega­tive.) Most of them are in the realm between people. I’m always busy, multi-tasking and striving to accomplish more and more. Interpersonal relationships and communication occupies a great part of my life. I Hope you will find the meditation meaningful and that it will be helpful in overcoming our spiritual inner enemies.

Click here to donate to Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin in honor of my birthday and of Rosh Hashana

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

Read Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Ki Tetze: "Comfort for the Bereaved Woman"

Parasha Meditation Ki Tetze
Devarim 21:10-25:19
Overcoming our Personal Enemies
This week’s parasha is about personal struggles: “When you go forth to battle against your enemies, and Hashem your G-d deliver them into your hands and you take them captive.”[1] This Torah verse urges every Jew to wage war with our personal enemies at this time when we prepare for the New Year. Why does the Torah state: “When you go out (תצא)…” rather than “When you go (תלך)to war?” Netivat Shalom explains that “When you go out” is directed at our neshama from the moment when it goes out from the upper world, into this physical world, in order to fulfill our purpose in the world by waging our personal war.[2]

The main reason we are sent into this world is to overcome our negative natural tendencies. If a day goes by without battling our negative inclination, it is considered as if we didn’t accomplish anything on that day. This is why the Torah verse states “your enemies” rather than just “the enemies.” For every person has a particular spiritual enemy to overcome. This is his mission for which he is sent into this world.

Finding our Purpose in the World
Sometimes I wish I was born in Arizal’s time. He would be able to take a quick look at my face and tell me exactly my purpose and mission in life. Most of my life I have been struggling to figure out my personal purpose in life – my tikun – for which sake I was sent into the world. Wouldn’t we all like to know exactly what we are supposed to achieve in this lifetime? Netivat Shalom explains that when we come to the upper world (until 120) we will be asked, “What did you accomplish in the world?” Even if we learned a lot of Torah, and fulfilled many mitzvoth, if we didn’t overcome our personal enemies, it is considered as if we didn’t accomplish anything in the world; since we didn’t fulfill our personal mission. Reading this gave me great chizuk, to be determined in finding my personal mission in the world, and make a plan to fulfill it! Netivat Shalom explains that the cue to discovering our personal enemies that we need to overcome – and thereby fulfill our purpose, is in the matter where our negative inclination is strongest. When we see that our negative inclination is overcoming us with otherworldly power, we are recognizing our personal enemy. We will then know that our battle in life is to focus on overcoming this enemy. We were sent into this world in order to specifically rectify this point.

Going out of ourselves – to overcome our Spiritual Enemies
Just as in war it is not enough to know how to shoot, in order not to waste bullets, we also need to know how to aim and hit the bull’s eye. Therefore, we need to focus all our might on the point where the negative inclination is trying to overcome us the most. Just as the soldier enters into war ready to give over his life, if that’s what it takes, we too, need to be willing to go out of ourselves in complete mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice, literally to hand over our soul) in order to overcome our personal enemy and achieve our rectification. This is why our parasha opens with “When you go out” – of yourself and your comfort zone, and your natural tendencies… Just as a soldier mustn’t fear or think about his wife and children, but turn away from everything in order to dedicate himself to warfare,[3] likewise we need to transcend everything that’s keeping us down, gather all our energy and focus on our spiritual goal, while turning away from the distractions trying to side-track us. We may have formed negative habits in response to a certain negative situation we experienced as a child. That response becomes habitual, and then the habit forms a character.

Although habitual attitudes feel comfortable, we become their prisoners. They persist even after the negative environment to which they were formed has been left behind. Therefore, we won’t be able to overcome the “enemy” without going completely out of ourselves and our negative habits. In order to be successful, we need to totally “go out” of ourselves and transcend our situation and reality, just as Rambam teaches us to go to the other extreme.[4]

Overcome our Enemies through Preemptive Action
An additional reason it states “When you go out…” is to teach us to be prepared, take preventative steps and go out towards the enemy before it takes us by surprise. Only “if you go out” and open the war against your enemies will “Hashem your G-d deliver them into your hands.” It’s much easier to conquer our negative impulse before it has gotten a hold of us. Becoming aware of our personal weaknesses where our negative inclination is strongest is the first step in taking preventive means to overcome it. The next step is to make a realistic plan, and a firm decision to stick to it. During this month of Elul, Hashem empowers us to carry out our resolutions, overcome our personal enemies, and come closer to Him and fulfilling of our personal mission.

Make yourself comfortable and breathe several slow cleansing breaths in and out of your nose. Letting the chair take your weight relax, relax, relax even more. Concentrate on the process of recognizing and overcoming your inner enemies.

1. Become aware of the light above your head, your Keter – crown and umbilical connection to the higher realms.

2. Observe the consequences of your thoughts, attitude and actions. Imagine little black fast moving specks trying to enter your crown and invade you.

3. Try to identify these black specks, scrutinize deeply and carefully. Ask in your mind’s voice: “What created you?” Perhaps a lack of emunah, self-doubts, negative thoughts and confusion created these black specks? Do not suppress thoughts and feelings, but observe, discover and examine

4. Allow the energy field of your crown to expand and push the black specks away, see them recede backwards and disappear. Focus again on your breath and feel at peace.

5. Visualize the light in your heart, in the shape of the most beautiful red rose, see the petals unfold. It’s the most exquisite rose, until little black bugs begin to eat away of its petals.

6. Look at the bugs under an imaginary microscope, scrutinize them and ask in your mind’s voice: “What created you?” Is it the hatred, anger, jealousy or grudge thatI keep in my heart that gave birth to these destructive forces? Ask yourself: “What is behind the anger? What is behind the self-defeat? What is behind the emptiness?...”

7. Breathe into your question and know yourself, and your spiritual weakness. Hold the self-knowledge about your personal enemies and make a decision how to eradicate the enemies of your heart.

8. Breathe love into your heart. Recite in your heart: “I am loved and I give out love!”

9. Visualize a surge of light entering your heart, strengthening the rose to push out the black bugs, see them retract one by one, and the rose in your heart growing stronger and more beautiful. The redness increases, and its heavenly scent fills you more and more with every inhalation.

10. Keep breathing and focus on the light surrounding your feet, feel how your feet are firmly planted on the ground. Beauty is within, but something is in the way. What is the shadow blocking the light? Imagine your feet stumbling over a closed door. Are you ready to open the door?

11. Listen to where the words come from when you speak. What is the cause gossip, judgmentalness? Is it a way to cover up your own insecurities?

12. Keep breathing into the closed door, and make a mental resolution to open the door. Allow your inner of light to separate from your inner enemies, peel them off so your essence can radiate and shine! Now imagine you gather all your strength to open the door, and become bathed in your own highest hidden light!

13. When you are ready, open your eyes and with pen and paper in your hand write down, your revelation about your inner enemies, and a realistic plan to conquer them.

In order to succeed in our spiritual warfare, we need to believe in our ability to succeed. We must believe that Hashem supports us to become aware of our spiritual enemies and empowers us to overcome them. Our Torah verse continues “…Hashem your G-d deliver them into your hands” in order to drive home this emunah, that Hashem will give us the ability to succeed if we only “go out” and try our very best. Just as in a physical war, the soft hearted fearful soldier was sent home,[5] likewise our ultimate success is contingent on not being afraid, because we believe that “Hashem our G-d is with you, He elevated you from Egypt.”[6] When we go out to war against our spiritual enemies through emunah in our ultimate victory, then “Hashem your G-d will deliver them into your hands.” We always read Parashat Ki Tetze during the month of Elul, because it precedes the renewal of the year. Each year is its own unit – the renewal of creation. Each person has a special purpose of what he or she must rectify at the renewal of creation in each particular year. This is alluded to in the phrase, “When you go out” – when you go out from the previous year towards the new year, “to battle your enemies” – meaning this is the time open war against the particular negative point within ourselves, in order to change, overcome our nature and open the door to enter the book of life.

[1] Devarim 21:10.
This entire Torah is based on Netivat Shalom, Parashat Ki Tetze, Ma’amar 1.
Rambam, Mishna Torah, Hilchot Melachim, Chapter 7, Halacha 15.
Rambam, Mishna Torah, Hilchot Deot, Chapter 1, Halacha 4.
Devarim 20:8.
Devarim 20:1.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Gatekeepers of our Soul

The month of Elul is upon us. It calls us to soul search and refine our life-routines, purifying the gates of our soul. Since picking up the Netivat Shalom[1] a few weeks ago, I have become addicted to his lucid parasha explanations, with their gentle Chassidic mussar (ethics) applicable for present-day life-transformations. So here again I present you with a Parasha Meditation based on the Netivat Shalom’s commentary of the gatekeepers of the soul that we are prompted to appoint. I hope you will try out the walking meditation which can be practiced any time you walk from one place to another.

On another note Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin entered the month of Elul with grace as we celebrated our 15th birthday with drums, songs and dancing with our alumna musician Tziona Achishena. The celebration continued with our annual grape-festival, learning all about grapes, both on a textual, spiritual, medicinal and practical level. You have to try our fresh squeezed grape-juice one day! It has the Divine taste of the Land!

Shanah Tovah U’Metukah! 

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Click here to read Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Shoftim "Tapping into Hashem's Comforting Energy"

Parasha Meditation Shoftim
Devarim 16:18-21:9
“You shall appoint judges and police officers for yourself in all your gates that Hashem your G-d gives you…”[2] Although according to the simple meaning (peshat) this verse is directed at the community of Israel to appoint a righteous judicial structure, the verse is written in singular as if speaking to the individual. Netivat Shalom explains that each individual has his or her personal gates. We all have the gate of seeing, of hearing, of smelling, of speaking/eating and feeling. We need to make a fence around each of these gates and appoint judges and officers to guard them. The purpose of our guards is to ensure that we use our eyes, ears, nose and mouth only for the sake of Hashem.

Guarding the Gates of our Senses
Before looking at something our appointed “judges” need to determine if it is Hashem’s will or not to look at this particular thing. For example it is a mitzvah to look at a beautiful flower and feel awe for its creator, while it is prohibited to look at a person of the opposite sex that is not our spouse or immediate family in order to derive pleasure. The same goes for listening to the words of Torah and wisdom and closing our ears to gossip and Lashon Hara. Even the nose needs a gatekeeper, to smell the scents of Hashem’s mitzvot like fragrant herbs for Havdala, and refrain from purposely smelling foul odors. The gate of the mouth, is for many of us, is the hardest to guard, allowing only the food and amounts that will give us energy to serve Hashem to enter the mouth, and only the words of wisdom and kindness to leave the gate of our mouth. The gatekeeper is our local police man, he knows our area, patrols our area, and chases off all those petty criminals that want to pick our pockets. We always need to have our gatekeeper's mobile number handy. He will help us say, no, I am not interested in what you have to offer, just as we would tell a salesman that knock on our door that we are not interested in what he is selling.

Training Our Eyes – Nipping Transgression in the Bud
When we appoint judges and officers at each of the seven gates of the apertures in our face, the “judge” weighs the matter carefully and comes to a final decision about what may enter the gates and what needs to be kept away. The “police officers” uphold the judge’s decision and reinforce proper fences and disciplines that will protect us from giving in to our yetzer hara (negative impulse). For example, the role of the “police-officers” is to help us learn “closing our eyes from looking at evil, which is the beginning of sin – the eye sees and causes the heart to desire, and the tool of action to complete the matter.”[3] The rectification for the eyes is to train our eyes to look at everything in the world with awe, recognizing Hashem as the Creator of all, as it states: “Lift up your eyes on high, and see: who has created these?”[4]

Letting Our Gatekeepers Enter G-d-Consciousness Within
In addition to preventing negativity from entering, the job of the “judges” and “officers” is to enter G-d-consciousness into all of our gates, and ensure that they will bring you to “Hashem your G-d.” This is the meaning of the continuation of the opening verse of Parashat Shoftim: “…judges and officers …that Hashem your G-d gives you…” – If we rearrange the words slightly, this phrase can also be read to mean: “Judges and officers shall give (enter into you) Hashem your G-d.”[5]

Time for Spiritual Accounting
Now in Chodesh Elul is the time to really work on establishing new life routines conducive to entering Hashem into our lives. I recommend Chesbon HaNefesh (soul-accounting), taking a paper and pen to record the decisions of the “judge” we have appointed, giving written instructions to our gatekeepers. Let us determine which things we need to distance from the gates of our senses, and make a proper plan with appropriate fences to enable the “police-officers” of our personal gates execute the plan!

This meditation is designed to build up and develop a relationship with your internal gatekeepers.

1. Stand with your spine upright and your shoulders relaxed, letting your arms hang naturally by your sides. Take a couple of long, slow and deep breaths. As you exhale, let go of any unnecessary tension, smile gently, and let your attention flow deep into your belly, hips, legs and feet. Feel your connection to the earth under your feet.

2. Coordinate your breathing with taking small steps: Step forward with your left foot as you inhale; step forward with your right foot as you exhale; continue in this way. Focus your gaze gently on the ground in front of you. Walk in a relaxed way, slower than your usual walking

3. As you continue to walk slowly with coordinated breath, become aware of everything on your way that meets your eyes. If you find your eyes resting with a twinge of jealousy on your neighbor’s home, car, garden or anything else belonging to someone else, call on your gatekeeper to help stop these feelings from entering the gates of your eyes. Allow your gatekeeper to avert your gaze. Instead lift your eyes to the sky, look at the silver-laced clouds, and praise Hashem for their creation. Look for other things on your way that you recognize as G-d’s creation. Praise Hashem for being the Creator of the swift bird in the sky, the tall and stately tree, and the beautiful flower…

4. Become aware of the sounds that you hear all around you. Call on your gatekeeper to keep away and close your ears to your neighbor’s angry bad-mannered fight, the noise of the impatient beeping cars, a mother screaming at her kid. Instead open your ears to the song of the birds, the children’s prayer, and the sound of tree-branches blowing in the wind.

5. Notice the smells of your environment. Have your gatekeeper remove the dog’s poop on your path, and the smell of a leaking septic tank. Focus on the scent of the flowers on your way, the grass and the herbs as your brushing footstep release their scent.

6. Make a mental intention to become aware throughout your day of what goes in and out of your mouth. Intensions have a power and energy to attract whatever you put out there. Call on your gatekeeper to ask the following three questions before entering or exiting anything to and from your mouth: “Is this kind? Is it necessary? Is it Hashem’s will?

7. Return to your place with a heightened awareness and confidence in the power of your appointed internal gatekeepers to strengthen your resolve allowing only that which is kind, necessary and for the sake of Hashem to go through the gates of your eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth. 

Our personal gates include our character-traits. Just as we need to repent from wrongdoing we need to repent from anger, hatred, jealousy, honor-seeking, lusts etc.[6] Therefore it states, “May the evil return from his way”[7] rather than “from his action”. The character traits are the way and the gates of a person.[8] Rav Yisroel Salanter taught that changing one midah is harder that mastering the entire Talmud. May we merit at this time, with the help of our faithful gatekeepers to purify even just an iota of our negative character-traits in order to truly enter Hashem’s presence into the gates of our soul!

[1] By Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky, 1911- 2000. The Rebbe of Slonim zt"l and the leader of Slonim chassidut in Israel during the decades following the Holocaust.
Devarim 16:18.
Tur, Orach Chayim, Siman 1 – טור אורח חיים סימן א
Yesha’yahu 40:26
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Shoftim, P. 101.
Rambam, Hilchut Teshuva 7:3.
Yesha’yahu 55:7.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Shoftim, P. 101.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Discovering our Personal Mission

This week’s parasha is called Re’eh which means to see. We are called to open our eyes, live life to the fullest, in the moment, and truly see the depths of reality. Before I “saw the light of Torah” my group of friends attempted to see beyond the physical illusive reality and expand their consciousness through various drugs. As Jews we don’t need drugs to open our consciousness. Hashem gives us the gift of expanded vision. All we have to do is to open ourselves to perceive. Seeing is a higher level than hearing. The meditation written below will help open you to both hear and see beyond the surface, and chose life. Hashem gives us the power of seeing with the eyes of our heart. When we get in touch with this innate power, it will become crystal clear that true life – the source of goodness – is to love Hashem and serve Him with all our hearts. This is an even higher level than the Shema Yisrael, which is not written in the language of seeing because it refers to the future. For only in the future will Hashem be truly unified and perceived as one. Therefore, in the end of the Aleinu prayer we recite: “On that day, Hashem will be one and His name one!”[1] Let us take advantage of the power of seeing that flows into us today!
With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Click here to read "The Stones of the Holy Tribes" - Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Re'eh

Parasha Meditation Re’eh
Devarim 11:26-16:17

To Fulfill our Purpose in Life
Our Parasha opens with the words, “See, this day I set before you the blessing and the curse.[2] Netivat Shalom explains in the name of the Arizal that the true blessing is when we fulfill our personal mission, and do the rectifications for which we were brought into this world; whereas, the curse is when someone works hard without fulfilling his personal mission. “See, this day I set before you” indicates that Hashem gives each of us all the necessary conditions to fulfill our mission. Every situation that we are placed in, our challenges and tests, all facilitate us in fulfilling our purpose in the world. Through the circumstances in which Hashem places us, we can learn to find our personal mission in life. This is the meaning of “The blessing that (אשר – asher) you shall hear…”[3] It doesn’t state – “The blessing if you listen to the mitzvot….” – because the blessing is unconditional. It is already given through all the situations in which Hashem places us, for the sake that we hear and learn about our purpose in life. All we need is to be mindful and hear. Therefore, Hashem instructs us to see – experience everything that Hashem is constantly giving (נותן –noten) us, for the sake of blessing if we only listen.[4]

Discovering our Mission from the Repeated Patterns of our Life
How can we learn about our purpose in life from our circumstances? I believe that every person has a pattern of repeated situations, or types of people in their life, which serve as clues to their personal mission. For example being faced repeatedly with obnoxious people, provoking us to anger, could be a sign that our purpose in life is to overcome our tendency towards anger. Personally through the circumstances I have experienced it’s clear that part of my purpose in life is to accept and even try to be happy, when others limit my scope, by starting competing projects. Some people have tests with parnassah (money), always struggling to put bread on the table. Their purpose may be accepting their lot in life and working hard to make due with little.

Becoming Aware of the Mission of Each and Every Day
“See, I set before you this day…”[5] Just as every person has a particular mission in life, each of our days as well has a special rectification. Whatever is possible to rectify today, is different than the rectification for yesterday and tomorrow. This is why Hashem renews the creation of the world every single day, as we pray on Shabbat: “[6]מְחַדֵּשׁ בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית. The blessing is to “hear” and fulfill the purpose and mission of each particular day. For this reason, every single day, a Heavenly Voice goes out and calls “return wild children!”[7] The reason a daily new Heavenly Voice is necessary, is because each day has its particular mission. All the things that happens to us during the day, call out to us to return and fulfill the particular mission of that day.[8] When will we begin to listen?

Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart
Why does the Torah open with the word “Re’eh” – “See” rather than for example: “Know”? The heart has the power to both hear and see.[9] Seeing is a higher level than hearing. The first level is “the days will speak”.[10] The High Holydays will speak to the Jewish heart. When we become mindful of these holy days, we can hear the voice of these days through the ears of our heart. The next level is when the days not only speak, but roar with all their might: “The lion roars, who will not fear?”[11] The Hebrew word for “lion” – אריה – “arieh” is an acronym for Elul, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Hoshana Rabah.[12] These days are the foundation for the entire year. The highest level, however, is when we see clearly with the eyes of our heart beyond any doubt that the blessing is to listen to Hashem, and that the “Torah is life and goodness.”[13] Therefore, “chose life!”[14]

The Wakeup Call to Be Mindful of the Rosh Hashana Vision
We always read Parashat Re’eh on the Shabbat that precedes Rosh Chodesh Elul. The Torah calls us to “see” that in only one month “I will give you the day” – The holy day of Rosh Hashana, and now is the time to start preparing for this holy and awesome day. The blessing is to hear with our hearts how “the voice of my beloved knocks,”[15] and calls the Jewish soul to awake from its slumber. This is why we begin to blow the Shofar on Rosh Chodesh Elul. Already on the Shabbat when we bless the new month of Elul, the gates of Heaven open, and the vision of Rosh Hashana emanate. According to how much we prepare ourselves before Rosh Hashana, do we merit attaining the source of blessing on Rosh Hashana!

Make yourself comfortable and breathe deeply several times.

1. Get in touch with your heart and imagine mentally removing the klipa (husk) of the hearing center in your heart.

2. Keep breathing and open yourself to hear the Heavenly Voice calling you back to your purpose in life.

3. Visualize all the distractions in your life trying to divert you from your personal mission. They can take any form such as glittering movies, material goods, black clouds, or any other image that comes up for you.

4. Imagine chasing away all these diversions one by one.

5. You are at a fork in the road. Before you lie two paths. Listen up and open yourself to hear the sound of the Shofar calling you towards the way to the life, love and blessing.

6. Return to your heart and imagine mentally removing the klipa (husk) of the vision center in your heart.

7. Visualize yourself standing before your cleared Torah path of your personal mission. See yourself take the first step towards the blessing. Continue to walk upon your personal pathway towards the light.

8. When you are ready, open your eyes and continue your day and those to come in a more mindful state of mind.

“See I place before you…” Why is the word I (אנוכי – Anochi) necessary? See the Ten Commandments which begins with (אנוכי – Anochi), and fulfill them, for they include all the mitzvot.[16] Our parasha alludes to the eternal First Commandment, “I am Hashem your G-d…” Every Jew has the ability to believe so strongly in the Ten Commandments that they become visible to the eyes at the level of “seeing.” Therefore, although the word Re’eh is told to the entire Jewish people, it is written in singular language,[17] because it refers to the Ten Commandments. They were written in singular for each and every person on his or her level.

[1] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Re’eh, p.83.
Devarim 11:26.
Devarim 11:27.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Re’eh, p. 75.
Devarim 11:26.
Shabbat, Morning Prayer.
Zohar Chadash, Midrash Ha’ne’elam, Eichah.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Re’eh, p. 77.
Zohar, Part 2: 116b).
Iyov 32:7.
Amos 3:8.
The Shelah HaKodesh, Parashat Shoftim: אלול, ראש השנה, יום כיפור, הושענא רבה
Devarim 30:15.
Ibid. 30:19.
Shir Hashirim 5:2.
Ba’al HaTurim, Devarim 11:26.
Re’eh – ראה rather than ראו – Re’u.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Listening to Hashem with our Heels

I’m enjoying a much needed vacation with my family, getting away from regular routine after haven shaken myself off from being glued to the computer. This gives me the opportunity to experience the Torah and connect with Hashem through the rest of my being, not just my head. Perhaps my break from thinking up and writing meditations, will allow me to actually try them out myself! I would love to learn to open my heart and really listen up. Perhaps on the quiet waves of the כינרת – Kineret (Sea of Galilee), it would be possible to hear the whispers of the Heavenly Voice that calls us back? It was my search for new experiences which eventually brought me back to the Torah. I hope that this same search will bring Torah back to all of me, even the lowest heel – Ekeiv, which opens this parasha. If you too would like to remove blockages from your heart, as Hashem commands us in this week’s parasha, then read on and try out the meditation, based on some of the visualization techniques I use in EmunaHealing. Let us try it together, and pray that we may be able to move the blockage from our hearts, so we can listen to the voice of Hashem and learn to really love with all of our hearts!

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

Click here to read Rebbetzin's commentary on haftorat Eikev - "Hashem - “He” or “She” or both?"

Parasha Meditation Eikev
Devarim 7:12-11:25
Every Jewish month according to Sefer Yetzira is associated with one specific sense. During the month of Av we are connected to the sense of hearing.[1] That means we have a greater ability during this time to open our ears to hear the Hashem’s voice calling us back. In the month of Av we start reading the Book of Devarim, which is all about listening to Moshe Rabbeinu’s thirty-six day long monologue. Like last week’s parasha when we learned about the Shema Yisrael, (Hear oh Israel), this week’s parasha opens by charging us to listen:

Listening to the Voice of Hashem with Our Heels
“It shall come to pass, because (Eikev) you listen to these ordinances, and keep, and do them, that Hashem your G-d shall keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore unto your fathers.”[2] This week’s parasha is called Eikev, which is translated in the context of the Torah verse “because” or “in exchange for.” However, it really refers to the heel of the foot. Netivat Shalom explains that there is the listening of the mind, the listening of the heart and the listening of the body – all the way down to its lowest and densest part, the heel. All our opinions and outlooks are connected to our mind, our desires and will is dependent on the heart, while our lower instincts and cravings are part of our lower body, with the heel representing our lowest point. While it is nice to be able to study Torah with our head, the greatest accomplishment is to make our Judaism penetrate into both our heart, stomach, legs, feet and even the very lowest part of our being – the heel. Therefore, our parasha opens with the Hebrew והיה – v’haya – this way of saying “It shall come to pass” is the language of simcha – happiness.[3] There is no greater simcha than when not only our ears will hear, but also our heart and even our heel will be able to listen, so that we can make our Judaism penetrate into the very lowest physical fiber of our being – the heel.[4]

Listening With Our Heel – “mesirut nefesh” – Total Devotion
Although our mind is intellectual, and our heel is at the very bottom of our body, listening with the heel is greater than listening with our mind. This is because the heel represents total devotion; whereas the mind always is questioning, and needs to be convinced into serving Hashem. When entering a hot tub, with which part of the body do we enter first, the head or the heel? The heel has “mesirut nefesh” by giving it itself over in total emunah. So to, in order to bring down Hashem's promises and blessings we must be totally devoted to Hashem and His mitzvot.[5]

Why don’t We Hear the Heavenly Voice?
Unfortunately most of us are very far from listening to Hashem with our heels. Most of the time we are struggling to bring the Torah into our hearts. “Every single day a bat kol (heavenly voice) goes out from Mt. Chorev and declares, “Woe to you people because of the embarrassment of the Torah…”[6] If this heavenly voice emerges daily how come we don’t hear it? The reason is that our heart is blocked. This week’s parasha is about opening our heart, so we can learn to really hear.

Circumcising the Foreskin of Our Hearts
“You shall circumcise the foreskin of your hearts, and no longer be stiff-necked.”[7] What kind of foreskin is on the heart? Rashi explains that this refers to that which blocks and covers the heart.[8] Every time a person sins, he creates a blockage on his heart, which makes it difficult to hear the voice of Hashem. Netivat Shalom comment on the double langue of Rashi – (blocks and covers), explaining that in addition to this spiritual blockage, the yetzer hara (negative impulse) also causes us to cover up our heart. When the heart is covered it is unable to hear and accept the words that are being spoken to it. Appointing the yetzer hara king makes it impossible to know and hear the words of Hashem. For the yetzer hara is standing at the opening of the heart, preventing the words from entering the soul.

The Wicked Gatekeeper of our Heart
This can be compared to a king whose gatekeepers are thieves. If someone wants to come before the king to complain about these wicked servants, the gatekeepers would surely not let him in, as this would cause them to lose their job. In the same way the yetzer hara, guarding the opening of our heart, does not permit the voice of the Torah to enter, in order not to be thrown out.

Hanging on to His Position by Blocking our Heart
Since every single Jew, even when leaving the Torah and the Mitzvot, is a part of G-d Above. If only the word of Hashem, that would set him straight, would enter his heart he would immediately return in complete repentance. Therefore, the yetzer hara is specifically concerned with preventing the holy words of the Torah from entering our hearts and move us to action. He is not interested in being un-employed.

Opening our Heart to Hear
The foreskin on our heart entails a lack in our Jewishness, and makes us feel disconnected from Hashem. As long as our heart is blocked and the heavenly voice cannot penetrate us and move us to repent, our heart is like the heart of a non-Jew, where Hashem’s word doesn’t enter. Therefore, Hashem requires us to circumcise our heart and remove both the blockage and the covering. It is not enough to remove the blockage which causes us to sin, it is even more important to remove the covering that doesn’t allow the Torah to penetrate our hearts, so we can become open to hear the words of truth with our entire being.[9]

Close your eyes, breathe and relax.
Tell yourself mentally to relax. Relax your forehead, relax your eyebrows, relax your eyes, relax your ears. Relax your entire head, neck and shoulders. Move your mind’s eye to your chest and heart, relax, relax, relax!

Step 1. Try to get in touch with your heart behind the ribcage a little to the left of the middle. Can you feel your heart beating? Place both of your hands together on top of your heart and press, until you really feel your own pulse there.

Step 2. Breathe rhythmically and slowly to the beat of your heart, empty out all the air on the outbreath.

Step 3. Remove your hands and relax them at your side, imagine a seed trying to sprout inside of your heart.

Step 4. Visualize a rocky terrain inside of your heart preventing the seed from growing. Imagine the size of the rock formation, is it many scattered rocks? Are they big like boulders or small like pebbles? Do they form a solid wall around your heart, or are there just a few rows of rocks with holes of light in the middle?

Step 5. Imagine the power of the seed within your heart expanding, sprouting forth and beginning to grow, pushing away the blocking of the rock formation.

Step 6. Visualize the rocks gradually crumbling down, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces all around the seed of your heart. Imagining how the big rocks become smaller and smaller, falling away, how the holes in the wall become greater letting in more and more light. Continue this visualization until all of the rocks are gone. The gate of your heart is opened, and the wicked gatekeeper falls into the sea.

Step 7. Water the sprout of your heart with waters of Torah & Mitzvot. Watch it grow, its branches becoming one with your arteries and veins, while it turns into a beautiful green plant of your choice, filling your heart with love.

Step 8. Think about a person that you love very much and feel how your heart is opened even more towards him or her. Decide one act of love you will do for this person at your very first opportunity. Then open your eyes, excited to fulfill your resolve.

In a sense “hearing” is deeper than “seeing.” We can “'see” something awesome, but “seeing” it, does not guarantee that we will make any changes in our way of life. However, when we “hear” the mitzvot – the words of the Torah are planted into our hearts. They take root there, and we grow with the Torah.[10]

[1] Sefer Yetzira 5:8.
[2] Devarim 7:12.
[3] See Ohr HaChayim, Bereishit 27:40. This form והיה with the conversive vav turns past into future. As if through the happiness we want the past to spill over into the future.
[4] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Eikev, p. 49.
[5] Rabbi Shelomo Carlebach, Parashas Eikev, Issue #25, 19-20 menachem Av 5767.
[6] Shemot Rabbah 41:7.
[7] Devarim 10:16.
[8] Rashi ibid.
[9] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Eikev, pp. 70-71.
[10] Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Parashas Eikev, Issue #25, 19-20 menachem AV 5767.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Shema Yisrael – The Centerpiece of Jewish Prayer

Spinning in "Women Rebuild the Mikdash" Program
Mazal tov! It’s B’erot’s fifteen year old birthday this Friday on TubAv – the time for celebrating the rise of the feminine mode. The spiritual energy of TubAv fits Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin, as our program is in the forefront of celebrating Jewish femininity. We emphasize how women have a major role in building the Malchut (kingdom) by building the Jewish home and land. Returning the Shechina – the Feminine Indwelling Presence to the land, does not just happen through academic study alone, but rather by means of getting deeply in tune with the inner world of spirit and the outer forces of nature, while developing our feminine insight and intuition and linking the spiritual &material through outwardly expression of creative inner potential. Click here to read my article about TubAv- The Rise of the Feminine

This year we will celebrate R”C Elul with an awesome spiritual concert by our alumna student Tziona Achishena (click here for details). Hope to celebrate and dance with you there! Most of the teachings below are extracted from our Creative Ulpan program, where we learned the meaning of the letters of the Torah – the building blocks of the world. 

I hope you will enjoy the special simple Shema Yisrael meditation!

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

Click here to read "Tu B'Av: Rectifying our Inner Lights" - Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Va'atchanan

Parasha Meditation Va’etchanan
Devarim 3:23-7:11
This week’s parasha always touches me. It’s so filled with emotions, so suitable for the celebration of TubAv. Moshe Rabbeinu describes his very deepest yearning for the Land of Israel. How privileged are we to be able to not only enter the Land, but live here and nurture our relationship with the Land of Israel through planting and growing!

Shema Yisrael – The Centerpiece of Jewish Belief and Prayer
The end of the parasha includes the Shema Yisrael prayer, which is like a seed that contains the entire Torah – a direct shortcut to Hashem. This centerpiece of Jewish belief and prayer contains the power to draw us back to our Soul’s purpose: Loving G-d, and sanctifying His Name as One. שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל הַשֵם אֱלֹהֵינוּ הַשֵם אֶחָד –“Shema Yisrael, Hear O Yisrael, Hashem is One.”[1] It says “shema” – hear/ listen, not just because we cannot see G-d, but because we are to bring the truth of Hashem’s Oneness deep into our being. What we see remains external to ourselves. We cannot ‘see’ but we can ‘hear’ Hashem communicating to us especially in the words of His Holy Torah. We unite with Him through seeing and remembering, but even more so by hearing and listening.[2] The Shema is a verbal mikvah, pouring into every level of our souls. It aligns us to the truth of Hashem’s Oneness, purifying doubt and the temptation to believe that there is anything in the world that is separate from Hashem.[3]

Complete Active Listening
שְׁמַע – The first word of the Shema prayer means hear or listen. Its first letter shin represents esh- fire, the following letter mem – is associated with mayim (water). To truly listen is to unite our vital energy (fire) with the receptiveness of water. This kind of hearing is called active listening. The last letter in the word Shema is ayin, which means eye and has the shape of an eye. To truly listen is to visualize the message we hear in our mind’s eye. The letter ayin has the numerical value of seventy, corresponding to the seventy facets of the Torah, and the seventy languages of the world. To listen is to integrate the message with all its possible numerous aspects.

Israel – Straight to G-d
יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael – Israel. This word can be broken up into two: Straight ישר – yashar אֵל– to G-d. The first letter of the word yashar is yud. It is the smallest most humble of all the letters. When writing any Hebrew letter, we always begin from the top, forming a yud. Yud, the most hidden beginning of all the letters is the first letter of Israel – the beginning of Hashem’s creation plan. He created the world for our sake, but our greatness is hidden throughout our exile and persecution. Shin, the second letter of Israel looks like flames of fire. It represents the fiery energy to keep us going, and keep our passion for Hashem strong. Reish, the third letter of Israel – has the shape of the back of the head. The letter reish also means head (rosh). With this letter we become the leader of the world, but only if we connect with the alef- lamed of G-d’s revealed name. “El” also means power, and interestingly it may be the root of the English word electricity. This name of G-d consists of the alef the oneness of G-d together with the lamed – the tallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet – symbolizing going upwards reaching towards its higher spiritual purpose.

The Eternal Name
הַשֵם – The four lettered name of G-d is translated most correctly as the Eternal. It includes within it the letters of heh, yud, and vav through which you can spell haya – was, hove – is, yiheye – will be. Hashem is beyond time and includes all past, present and future. The heh is the letter of breath, birth and creativity, the letter vav is the letter of connection. G-d created and breathed life into all existence and connected the world to himself. The first yud of His name denotes beginning, He is the first, nothing preceded Him, both Israel and G-d begin with this same letter signifying the connection between us.

Elokim – The Power of Nature
אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ – The root of this word is Elokim the word for G-d which is manifested within the physical world also denoting judgment. Elokim decreed that the natural rules of the world operate in according to set laws. The first two letters are shared with the word for Israel denoting our connection with Elokim. It is interesting that these letters are in the end of the word Yisrael whereas they appear in the beginning of the word for G-d. Our end goal and purpose to reach the Divine, is only the beginning of G-d’s infinite being which is so uplifted beyond what we can even begin to imagine. The heh is the birth not only of our world, but of all the worlds beyond us, reaching towards the yud that most spiritual letter corresponding to the world Above – The World to Come. The suffix נוּ – is always used to denote “us” or “our”. The nun stands for the fifty gates of understanding all which Hashem wants to grant us, and the vav is the letter of connection. Whatever is ours is what we connect with on the deepest level.

The Gate of Brotherhood & Unity
אֶחָד – The first letters of the word for one (echad) is alef and chet, which spell the word אח –ach – brother. In order to be united we need to feel the connectedness of brotherhood. The last letter of echad is dalet which has the numerical value of four, representing the four corners of the world that needs to be united in the One. The chet in the middle of the word represents the chuppah (marriage canopy), which connect together the oneness of G-d with the four directions of the world. It is the gate through which the Oneness, so to speak, has to pass in order to enter the physical world.

Shema Meditation based on Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan[4]

Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes. Begin breathing slowly.

Step 1. Try to visualize the first two letters of the word the Shema: ש – shin and מ – mem. These two letters are two of the three “Mother Letters.”[5]

Step 2. Inhale while imagining shin, exhale while imagining mem. Repeat ten times.

Step 3. Visualize how the shin represents chaos and fire, while the mem connects to harmony and water. Allow the letters of the Shema to break through your everyday level of consciousness (shin), and raise you to tranquility and inner peace (mem).

Step 4. Feel how the sound of the shin is “shhh” is a sound that includes the presence of all sounds. Connect with the sound of mem which is its opposite – the pure harmonic sound, “mmm”.
ע – ayin – the last letter of the Shema has no sound. It acts as a neutralizer and vessel for the fire of shin and the water of mem to merge.

Step 5. Inhale while visualizing the letter ע – ayin, exhale while making a “shhh” sound, and visualizing the letter ש – shin.

Step 6. Inhale while visualizing the letter ע – ayin, exhale while making a “mmm” sound and visualizing the letter מ – mem.

Step 7. Repeat ten times, inhaling silently, and exhaling “shhh.” Then inhaling again silently, and exhaling “mmm.” The repetitions will draw you deeper and deeper into the “mmm” sound.

There is a spiritual pilot light, or Pintele Yid, in every Jew that never is extinguished, and the Shema is a spark that causes that hidden light to grow and strengthen. We suffer when we are not connected to this truth without understanding why. The perpetual presence of the Shema pilot light gets obscured by layers of worldly impurity that comes with exile, true exile: the distance from knowing Hashem. Every time we say the Shema, the light that is within us grows stronger, purifying us with the truth, connecting us to a wellspring of emunah (faith).

[1] Devarim 6:4.
[2] Rabbi Shelomo Carlebach, Parashas Eikev, Issue #25, 19-20 menachem Av 5767.
[3] By alumna student Tziona Achishena for full article see <http://www.berotbatayin.org/shema.htm>.
[4] See this beautiful video presentation <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9bwEFS7Btk>
[5] Sefer Yetzirah 1:2. (The third Mother Letter is alef).