Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuning into the Holiest Shabbat of the Year

Special student-made Ushpizim decorations in B'erot's Succah
Dear Friends,
We are entering the holiest Shabbat of the year, having emerged from Yom Kippur, feeling so cleansed and pure, and embracing the upcoming Sukkoth Festival. Without the static on our channel to Hashem, we are finally ready to hear – Therefore, we read Parashat Ha’azinu which means to give ear. I designed this meditation to help us open ourselves to really hear the messages our neshama (soul) receives from Above. May we merit hearing who we are and where we are headed! May we take our truth with us to the Sukkah, and rejoice with it in the house of Hashem!

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With Blessings of the Torah & the Land for an exultant Sukkoth Celebration,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

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Parasha Meditation Parashat Ha’azinu
Devarim 32:1-52
The Shabbat between Yom Kippur and Sukkot is the highest of the highest. Since every Shabbat includes both the lights of the previous and the coming week,[1] this Shabbat includes both the holy lights of Yom Kippur and of Sukkot. The Shabbat following Yom Kippur contains the aspect of forgiveness and awesome holiness. Likewise the lights of simcha (happiness) of the coming week of Sukkot are all included in this Shabbat. According to Netivat Shalom, this Shabbat is the holiest in the entire year.[2] At this time the solemn energies of Yom Kippur merge with the joyful happiness of Sukkot, bringing us into Hashem’s most intimate chambers.

When the Neshama Hears the Body Will Follow
“Give ear, you heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.”[3]
Why is the heaven implored to give ear with the imperative form of the word הַאֲזִינוּ, whereas regarding the earth it uses the simple future form וְתִשְׁמַע – “will hear”?

Netivat Shalom explains that the heavens allude to the neshama (soul) of which the klipot (husks) have no ability to seize. Therefore, the neshama always hears the heavenly voice (Bat Kol) which goes out daily. When the neshama will hear, then it follows that “the earth will hear the words of my mouth” – meaning that also the body will hear. The body is otherwise far from hearing because it is entrenched within the physical world, occupied in material matters. However, the neshama will surely hear, it being a part of Hashem Above. When we from times to times are aroused in thoughts of teshuvah (repentance) it is a result of our neshama hearing the Bat Kol speaking to the souls of Israel: “Oy to the creation for the offense to the Torah”[4]

By means of our soul hearing then even the body will become aroused. Then our spiritual work is only to hold on to this arousal without letting it go
 – אֲחַזְתִּיו וְלֹא אַרְפֶּנּוּ. l[5]

Holding on to the Holiness of Yom Kippur
After we emerge so cleansed pure and holy from Yom Kippur, in my experience, the real challenge is to hold on to this holy feeling. After Yom Kippur, I’m so careful with every word I speak, every action I do, not to soil the pure holy garments of my soul with an ugly stain. But then, I don’t know what happens, as the year progress, a small wrongdoing, then another and voila back to square 1. I hope this year to try even harder to hold on to the holiness of Yom Kippur and make it last the entire year, washing off each spiritual stain as it comes.

Illuminating Shabbat Brings Lights of Elevation for the Weekdays
The heavens also allude to the holy Shabbat, and the earth to the days of the week. This teaches us that by means of keeping Shabbat properly we have the ability to raise up all the days of the week. When a person sins, his neshama leaves him temporarily, however on Shabbat our neshama shines and we even receive an additional neshama. On Shabbat, the neshama which always cleaves to Hashem returns to every Jew. This is why Shabbat is the acronym for שבת בו תשוב – Shabbat bo tashuv – on Shabbat you will return, for on Shabbat every Jewish person is close to repentance. Even if it is difficult for us to elevate ourselves during the weekdays, on the holy Shabbat we Jews have the ability to return to Hashem. By means of establishing “Give ear you heavens” – that is, to illuminate the Shabbats, then it will follow that “the earth will hear” – that is, that even during the regular weekdays we will b”H achieve closeness to Hashem.[6]

Overcoming Evil by means of Good 
 In the service of Hashem, there is both the aspect of turning away from evil, and doing good; as King David implores us: “Turn away from evil, and do good.”[7] The usual interpretation of this Torah verse is that it is necessary to first turn away from wrongdoing in order to be a suitable vessel for good deeds. However, the Chassidic outlook is opposite. We turn away from evil by means of doing good. Rambam teaches us that in order to get rid of anger we need to go to the other extreme. Even if someone yells and curses us, we shouldn’t feel hurt and we shouldn’t get affected by it at all. “One should teach oneself not to get angry, even over a matter that is proper to get angry about.”[8] However, not everyone is on the level to control his emotions, and not be affected by curses and insults. Yet, when we begin to perform a great holy deed, we get empowered to uproot the negative from within us. Performing good deeds will enable us to turn away from evil, just as the holy pleasure of Shabbat and the holidays infuses the rest of the year with holiness, and enables us to rise beyond the laws of nature even within the regular weekdays. This is the meaning of “Give ear, you heavens, and I will speak” – the heavens allude to the good deeds. When we listen to Hashem by performing His mitzvoth and are involved in giving pleasure (נחת רוח) to Hashem, then it follows that “the earth will hear the words of my mouth” – that also the body which is involved in material desires will hear and become illuminated. By means of the power of good we can overcome evil, and become elevated to our source in holiness.[9]

Give ear, you heavens, and I will speak;
Heaven   שמים      
Soul   נשמה
Shabbat   שבת
Positive Mitzvot   מצוות עשה

and let the earth hear the words of my mouth
Earth   ארץ
Body   גוף
Weekdays   ימי חול
Negative Mitzvot   מצוות לא תעשה

Let us take proper advantage of this holy time when Hashem is so near to really open our neshama and hear His messages for us. Sit in a comfortable place with your eyes closed, breathe deeply and allow yourself to drift into a meditative state.

1. Concentrate on your breath, breathe in all the way to the very deepest place inside yourself, into the pure neshama blown in you by Hashem. No corruption, confusion or discord has ever penetrated to this place of your essential purity.

2. הַאֲזִינוּ – ha’azinu – Give ear. Inhale to the sound of “Ha’ah” – הַאֲ exhale to the sound of “Zinu” – זִינוּ. Breathe out from this place of depths. Repeat 5-10 times.

3. Visualize a flowing heavy curtain before you. Imagine going through the curtain and entering a new space with another curtain lighter than the previous. Breathe into this new place and open the next curtain before you lighter than the previous. Keep breathing and opening curtains before you, lighter and lighter until the curtain becomes so light and thin that it barely is recognizable. Open the last transparent curtain and enter the innermost chamber of your soul.

4. הַאֲזִינוּ – ha’azinu – Give ear. Listen to the sounds you hear in this innermost space of your soul. Visualize your ear as an amazing open funnel, ready to be filled with new light.

5. Listen to the voice calling your name and calling you to be reborn to the mission of your life.

6. Wrap your personal message inside of a beautiful silk material and carry it close to your heart.

7. Return to the earth. Go through the transparent curtain, enter a the old space with another curtain heavier than the previous, breathe into this place and open the next curtain before you heavier than the previous. Keep breathing and opening curtains before you, heavier and heavier until you reach the first heavy curtain bringing you back to the earth.

8. Visualize standing barefoot on the naked earth. Feel the texture of the moist earth beneath your feet. Imagine your silk wrapped message emanating from the earth, softly whispering your truth.

9. Feel closer to yourself, who you are, and where you are headed, then open your eyes. 

This is the Shabbat of Listening (from the opening phrase of Ha’azinu). Let us remember to listen, to be mindful and pay attention to each moment. Let us remember that in each moment we are standing between Life and Death. We must choose life. Ha’azinu lifts up each moment and says, “It is your life! What will you do with it just now?” Let us look at who and where we are and return to the path of our true life!

[1] Be’er Mayim Chaim, Parashat Nitzavim.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Ha’azinu p. 222.
Devarim 32:1.
Shemot Rabah, 41:7.
Shir HaShirim 3:4.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Ha’azinu p. 119.
Tehillim 34:15, 37:27.
Rambam, Mishna Torah, Hilchot Deot Chapter 2: Halacha 3, Halacha 7.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Ha’azinu p. 120

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