Wednesday, October 31, 2012

An Opening for Healing Revelation

In the peaceful forest by Bat Ayin
I hope you will try my parasha meditations. Baruch Hashem they are flowing to me, and I incorporate them into my emunahealing. For myself, it is a very healing process to learn to be, rather than to do. There are so many things which need to be done perpetually, however, when we learn to slow down and do things mindfully, with Hashem’s blessing they may get done easier, while our time is freed to experience Hashem’s closeness. 

Meditating and opening ourselves to expanded consciousness is part of the geulah process when “It shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” (Yoel 3:1). 

The meditation for this week’s parasha is especially designed to facilitate healing. Just as Hashem revealed Himself to Avraham in order to heal him from the wound of his circumcision, so is Hashem’s healing energy especially accessible this week, if we open ourselves to receive it. Find 10-15 minutes to sit down with yourself, and with Hashem’s help you will experience an opening and healing in your life.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Vayeira: The Power of Women’s Emunah

Parasha Meditation Vayeira
Bereishit 18:1-22:24
The Angels’ Spiritual Mission
This week’s parasha is about receiving revelation and healing. “וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו הַשֵם” – “Hashem revealed Himself…”[1] Through Hashem’s revelation to Avraham, He gives each of us a glimpse of His light as well. Hashem sent three of his archangels to Avraham and Sarah. Each angel is a spiritual force with its own mission. Michael’s mission was to inform Sarah about her forthcoming conception, and later to save Lot from the downfall of Sedom, Gavriel came to overturn Sedom and Amora, and Refael to heal Avraham.[2]

Opening Hashem’s influx in the World through the Mitzvot
When Hashem revealed Himself to Avraham, it states that “he was sitting at the opening of the tent” [3] – “וְהוּא ישֵׁב פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל”. Whenever it states in the Torah about our patriarchs that they were sitting, it means that they were meditating. His “sitting” denotes the meditative state of being completely in tune with his environment, at rest, in deep meditation. When it mentions “he is sitting” it also teaches us that Avraham would always be sitting at his tent entrance looking for guests. “He sits in the opening” alludes to the fact that the mitzvot are the opening for arousing and drawing down G-d’s Divine supervision into the world. The physical act of welcoming guests opens and draws down from above, Divine sustenance to the world.[4]

Opening for Revelation
Avraham was sitting and just being, sitting without judging himself or others, sitting and allowing everything to pass through him and surround him. He was sitting “פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל” – “At the opening of the tent” – Opening himself totally to the energy field around him, opening himself totally to the presence of Hashem enveloping him. Opening himself and allowing the Divine Presence to reveal Herself to him.

Healing through Seeing
וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו הַשֵם בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא וְהוּא ישֵׁב פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם: וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה שְׁלשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים נִצָּבִים עָלָיו וַיַּרְא וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אָרְצָה... - בראשית יח:ב
“Hashem revealed Himself to him, at Alonei Mamre, while he was sitting at the opening of the tent in the heat of the day. He raised his eyes and he saw, behold three people standing by him, he saw and he ran towards them from the opening of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground…”[5]

Ohr HaChaim notices that the Torah repeated that Avraham saw a second time. Perhaps we can say that only the second time did he see that the “men” were actually angels. However, this can’t be so, as Avraham was on such a high level that already the first time he saw, he knew. Rather, Scripture informs us that when Avraham looked again, he saw the healing angel of Refael and was immediately healed from his circumcision, as we see that he was able to run quickly towards them.“וַיַּרְא וַיָּרָץ” – “He saw and he ran.” Experiencing this amazing healing also explains why he bowed down in the greatest respect.[6]

“וְהוּא ישֵׁב” – “He is sitting” – Sit comfortable in your chair, close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Breathe deeply and feel completely relaxed in all of the limbs of your body.

1. “וְהוּא ישֵׁב” – Sit with the feeling of being alive; simply BEING present and open, using your breath as anchor. Just be present with what is, without DOING anything with any of it. Just be in relation to it. Allow it. Permit it.

2. “פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל” – “In the opening of the tent” – Be open to it. Just be open and allow. Let all the sounds in the room pass through you, allow all your thoughts and feelings to come and go, without grasping, identifying or judging. Simply sit, in the present moment of being alive. Do not measure yourself, judge yourself, but just make space for yourself as you sit. When you sit, you can free yourself of yourself even in the midst of yourself.

3. “וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו הַשֵם” – “Hashem revealed Himself to Him” – Open yourself and allow yourself to see and connect with Hashem. Let your eyes open to the revelation He wants to show you. It could be completely different than what you expect, what you think it is supposed to be. When you detach from yourself, your judgments and preconceived notions, then you open yourself to see, to see beyond what you know. Not the projection of your desire, but what truly is, that which we don’t allow ourselves to see, when we are so full of ourselves that there is no room for G-d.

4. Go beyond counting your accomplishments, let go of even your spiritual self, as you keep breathing, taking in the breath from beyond. Do not fear to open yourself in wonder. Don’t be afraid to face any feelings which may come to you, whether a feeling of meaninglessness, despair, fear, they are all part of the experience which leads you to encounter Hashem. Don’t be afraid of fear as you come out into the open, the only place where G-d is revealed.

5. “וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה שְׁלשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים נִצָּבִים עָלָיו” – “He raised his eyes and he saw, behold three men stood by him.”[7] As you breathe softly, imagine the energy of the archangel Michael standing at your right. Feel the energy of chesed (kindness), inhale softness love and compassion. Tune into how much you are being loved. Tune into the waves of love washing over you from your right.

6. Now imagine the energy of the archangel Gavriel at your left. Breathe in as you feel gevurah (strength) and protection from your left. Inhale the gevurah energy. Your boundaries are becoming clear. You now have a vessel for all of the love. Imagine the shape of your vessel emerging from your left.

7. Breathe in, allow yourself to tune into the healing energy of the archangel of Refael from behind you. Inhale the healing energy from behind you to your entire being.

8. “וַיַּרְא וַיָּרָץ” – “He saw and he ran”[8] – When Avraham looked again he saw the healing angel of Refael and he was immediately healed and able to run. Open your eyes to a healing vision. Notice the colors shapes, feelings, of what you visualize in your mind’s eye. Allow the healing you receive to enter into every part of you that needs healing. Take your vision of Hashem’s healing energy and enter it to every place within you, where it is needed.

9. Breathe slowly and allow your healing process to take place. Feel how your body is responding and opening itself to the healing energy. Slowly tap your hands and feet, open your eyes and return refreshed and healed to the reality around you.

Revelation entails true redemption. Even after the Exodus, the Jewish people were still considered in exile until Hashem revealed Himself to them. When they erected the Mishkan (tabernacle) Hashem returned to reveal His Divine presence to them. Only then were the Jewish people considered redeemed, when they returned to the level of their fathers, whose tents were continually illuminated by Hashem’s perpetual presence.[9]

Vayera elav Hashem” – “G-d showed Himself to him” – this teaches us that the main intention of this verse, for every Jew is “to him,” i.e. to relate these events to himself. (Otherwise, the verse would say, “G-d revealed Himself to Avraham,” making it clear that the visit was specifically for Avraham.) Each of us is a descendant of Avraham. Each of us has also entered into a brit – covenant – with G-d, just as Avraham. Therefore, it is possible for each of us to have part of the same revelation that Avraham had! What do we have to do to receive revelation? Just as Avraham used his body to express his closeness to G-d by circumcising himself at the age of ninety-nine, similarly, each of us must imbue all 248 organs and 365 veins, arteries and sinews with holiness by using them to do G-d’s Will. In this way, we will become be a proper vessel for G-d’s revelation, both on a personal and universal level and be prepared for the main revelation of Mashiach’s arrival![10]

Bereishit 18:1.
Based on Rashi and Rabbeinu Bachaya, Bereishit 18:2.
Bereishit 18:1.
Based on Sefat Emet, Parashat Vayera.
Bereishit 18:1-2.
Ohr HaChayim, Bereishit 18:2.
Bereishit 18:2.
Ramban, Introduction to the Book of Shemot, cited by Netivat Shalom on Parashat Vayera.
Based on the Rebbe of Lubavitch cited byRabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, Ascent of Safed, w:08-59/Vayera.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fixing the Level of Going – to our Higher Selves

Students this week at the wedding of B'erot student Dena
Parashat Lech lecha is my favorite. I've taught it for many years at Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin, because we all can identify with Avraham and Sarah’s journey. All of us are on different stages in our personal Lech lecha. We all have external layers to shed, and internal layers to reach. It is all about staying “on the derech” rather than going off the derech.” We need to keep moving and shaking in our quest for self-improvement. There is never a time for becoming complacent. Avraham picked himself up at the age of 75. We are never too old to grow.
The parasha meditation for Lech lecha is designed to help us let go of all the things that weighs us down whether physically, emotionally or spiritually, and enter into a deeper relationship with our higher self – the Divine spark within.  

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Click here to read Physical and Spiritual Renewal -Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Lech Lecha

Parasha Meditation Lech Lecha
Bereishit 12:1-17:27
Following the Footsteps of Avraham our Father
Avraham’s journey parallels each of our personal journeys. When G-d told Avraham, “לֶךְ לְךָ” –
Lech lecha,”[1] – “go to yourself” – to your essence,[2] He also told each of us at every moment:
“go to yourself” – connect the soul in your body to your soul-root on high, which is always connected to G-d. When we connect the lower part of our soul to its higher source through our involvement in Torah and Mitzvot, we attain the ability to see G-dliness in this world! This is the meaning of the continuation of the verse: “ the land that I will show you.” When we follow in the footsteps of Avraham our Father, Hashem will show himself to us, even inside of the land – i.e. the physical world.

Fixing the Level of “Going”
Why does it state “לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ”– “go from your land…” The word “לֶךְ” in Hebrew means to go towards a place or goal. The Hebrew word “צֶא” – “go out” is used to indicate going from – leaving a place. Didn’t Avraham have to go out and leave his environment completely, before he could go towards the Holy Land? It should, therefore, have rather stated “צֶא מֵאַרְצְךָ” – “go out from (leave) your land, your birthplace and your father’s house,” and only then “לֶךְ אֶל הָאָרֶץ.” – “go to the land” [3]

Rav Tzaddok brings us an amazing chidush from the Zohar. Avraham was commanded to fix the level of going.[4] In Judaism it is not so much where you are that matters, but the direction that you are going. Two people could be on the same spiritual level momentarily, but one who came from a very holy background is “going off the derech,” while the other is returning to the path of spiritual heights from an impure environment. Avraham received the ability to go forward with even greater strength, not despite but specifically because of his lowly background. By means of distancing himself and detaching completely from his father, Terach – an idol-worshipper of the first caliber, as well as from everything else in his environment and culture, both spiritually and physically, Avraham was able to fix the level of going. Thus, he was paving the way for all of us – his descendants – to likewise leave our impure environment and culture, in our going on the path of teshuva.[5]

About this it states: “Hashem spread you our among the nations, and you remained small in numbers among the gentiles where Hashem had brought you….and you worshipped idols, the handiworks of wood and stone… but you were seeking from there Hashem your G-d and you found Him because you were seeking with all your hearts and all your souls.”[6]

No matter how low a place you are in, you can use the lowliness of this place as a springboard to go and propel yourself forward to even greater elevations. The more a rubber band is pulled back, the stronger it flies when it is finally released. This is the case with Yosef who rose from prison, to become the second in charge to the king.[7] Likewise, Rabbi Akiva, was an unlearned sheepherder,[8] yet he became one of the greatest Rabbis in Israel with 24.000 students.[9]

Go to your Higher Self
Our self-image, which we project into the world, may not be the true reflection of the inner core of our being. We have built upon ourselves layers and layers of external self-identifications. G-d is telling us, together with Avraham, to seek true selfhood – “לֶךְ לְךָ”, yet at the same time abandon everything that establishes and confirms self-image – (מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ) – “Go from your country, birthplace and father’s house. Avraham must leave the vital ground for self-confirma­tion, citizenship, property rights and inheritance – essential sources of security, in order to seek a new and higher identity independent of land, nationality and family. Avraham's new identity is founded upon his relationship with G-d. By choosing to make his identity based on his supernatural relation­ship with the source of the present and the future, he creates eternal selfhood, which becomes the fountain of Jewish survival. If each individual “I” includes a “thou,” then an “I” that stands in relationship with an “Eternal Thou” embodies that eternity into the very definition of his human “I”.[10]

Sit comfortable in your chair, close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Breathe deeply and feel completely relaxed in all of the limbs of the body.

1. Imagine Hashem’s light filling you from Above. In your mind see the letters that form the words “לֶךְ לְךָ” – lech lecha. They extend as far down and as far up as they can go. Claim all of yourself – your entire range of being.

2. Go. Grow. Recall the lowest depths to which you’ve pain or sorrow.
Remember the greatest heights to which you’ve love and labor.

3. Breathe in as you imagine the word לְךָ – lecha – to yourself, breathe out as you imagine the word לֶךְ – lech – go.

4. Continue breathing in and out while visualizing לֶךְ לְךָ – lech lecha and going deeper into yourself on the in-breath with the word לְךָ – lecha, while letting go on the out-breath as you imagine the word לֶךְ – lech. Repeat this ten times.

5. Go from your country, your birthplace & your father’s house “לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיך

6. Are you ready to abandon everything that establishes and confirms your selfhood? – Your country, your birthplace and your father’s house? Are you ready to let go of the vital ground for self-confirma­tion, citizenship, property rights and inheritance? –Your essential sources of security.

7. “אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ”– “To the Land that I will show you”
With each in-breath, seek a new and higher self-identity independent of land, nationality and family. Seek your relationship with Hashem.

8. Are you ready to base your self-identity on your eternal connection with the Source of the present and the future? Think about the things that weigh you down – that are not really part of true self, that you want to let go of, in your journey to find your true inner self – Hashem’s Divine spark within you.

9. With each in-breath, go deeper into your “I” which includes Hashem. It embodies the eternal Divine “You” into the very definition of your human “I”.

10. With each out-breath try to let go of every un-essential layers of your self- image.
“מֵאַרְצְךָ” – From your country, from the language and culture that you grew up in, from its national values such as democratic freedom, from the manners and body language of your country.

11. “מִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ” – From the customs of your neighborhood, the foods, traditions and unspoken expectations of your extended family.

12. “וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ”– from all the things your encountered in your childhood home that you promised yourself you would not repeat when you became a parent, but found yourself in the exact same behavior patterns. Go from those neuroses, judgments and criticism, those petty expectations and snobbiness.

Lech lecha – Lech lecha from all that weighs you down
Lech lecha – Lech lecha go to your crown!

From jealousy and anger
Hatred and obsession
From judgment and slander
Sadness and depression
Lech lecha – Lech lecha from all that weighs you down
Lech lecha – Lech lecha go to your crown!

From humiliation and dissolution
Pursuit of temptations that deceive
From uncertainty and confusion
to your inner Divine spark believe!
Lech lecha – Lech lecha from all that weighs you down
Lech lecha – Lech lecha go to your crown!

From holding on to the past,
Childhood wounds and hurt feelings
To release and feel peace at last
With yourself in all your dealings!
Lech lecha – Lech lecha from all that weighs you down
Lech lecha – Lech lecha go to your crown!

Imagine being 100 % connected with your crown, – imagine it sparkle on top of your head with all its glory containing only the purest Divine Light. With each in-breath, the shape of your crown becomes clearer and more defined, and it sparkles more and more.

Now that you are releasing the layers from your past that weighs you down, you can let go of any trace of fear of the unfamiliar. Open yourself completely to“הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ” – “the Land that G-d will show you” – Open yourself to new possibilities in an unknown future.

Open yourself to the unknown change, hope and miracles.
Allow yourself to see the possibility for new beginnings, living a life of hope and constant moving forward.

The words “לֶךְ לְךָ” – “Lech lecha,” each have the gematria (numerical value) of 50 + 50 denoting going towards the fifties’ gate of purity leaving the fifties’ gates of impurity. The mitzvot become our exterior garment replacing the impurity of our past. In Egypt when we received the first collective mitzvah and became a people, Hashem took us out from the fifty gates of impurities and brought us to the fifty gates of understanding. On an individual level the same takes place through “לֶךְ לְךָ” – “Lech lecha,” the first mitzvah which Avraham was commanded.

The name Lech lecha, literally: “Go to yourself,” refers to our constant ascent from lower to higher spiritual levels as we fulfill our purpose in the world. The numerical value of the two words is one hundred – the age of Avraham when Yitzchak was born. Hashem was alluding to Avraham, “When you reach Lech lecha – the age of one hundred – then I will make your name great through the birth of Yitzchak.”[11] The number one hundred is the number of completion. It encompasses all the ten sefirot with each of their ten sub-sefirot.

[1] Bereishit 12:1.
Kli Yakar, Bereishit 12:1.
Rav Tzaddok of Lublin, Pri Tzaddik, Parashat Lech Lecha, Ot 1.
Zohar, part 1, p. 77b.
According to the principle: “The deeds of the Fathers are a sign for the children.” See Ramban, Bereishit 12:6.
Devarim 4:27-29.
Bereishit 39:20, 41:14, 41:14.
Yalkut Shimoni, Mishlei, chapter 12, allusion 548.
Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 128a.
Rabbi David Aaron, based on Martin Buber.
Ba’alei HaTosfot, Bereishit 12:1.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Building our Personal Sacred Space

Fun Finale to Talent-Packed B'erot Concert in Jerusalem
The routine of the year has started. The sweet scents of rain are in the air. Now it is time to sow new seeds, to begin anew. As the nights are growing longer we increase Torah study, we go inside, seeking protection from the storms in Hashem’s holy words of Torah. Whatever craziness is raging in the world around me, I feel safe in my personal sacred space. Perhaps I’m naïve, but all I have is His word, which I trust.

The meditation below will help you overcome the waves of your worries, and feel b’Noach – at rest, in complete peace with yourself.

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

Read Parshat Noach and Blessing in Disguise -Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Noach

Parasha Meditation Noach
Bereishit 6:9-11:32

Our Personal Ark of Protection
The great flood of Noach teaches us that no matter how greatly people mess up, there is always a way out of total destruction. Hashem imbues within us the power of protection, no matter how much we may sin G-d forbid, there will never again be total destruction like the great flood.[1] Moreover, we will always have our personal ark – a corner of purity – where we can escape all matters of corruption.

The Protection of the Holy Shabbat
The Zohar teaches that Noach alludes to the holy Shabbat.[2] “Noach found grace”[3] – by means of keeping the holy Shabbat, a Jew has the power to overcome all kinds of negative influence in the world. Whoever keeps Shabbat according to its Halachot (Jewish laws) is forgiven even if he worshiped idols.[4] The power of Shabbat protects us even from the worst situation. The holy Shabbat corresponds to Noach’s ark which protects from the water of the deluge.[5]

The Power of Torah Keeps Impurity from Entering
Noach’s ark also alludes to the holy Torah, which provides us with protection. “I have created the yetzer hara, (evil inclination) I have created the Torah its antidote.”[6] The Torah is the power of protection from the corruption of the generation of the flood. The matter of Noach’s ark is to detain the powers of impurity from spreading, and prevent them from entering the ark, by means of the power of the Torah.

Holding on to the Rope of Our Holy Spark
Whenever we feel down and low, when we feel that our personal world is at the verge of collapse, then it is the time to “Make for yourself an ark.”[7] – Seek refuge in your personal sacred space – the spark of life from which we have the ability to rebuild our broken spiritual world. This ark is built by means of the one mitzvah that each and every Jew keeps to perfection, in any situation, no matter how much resistance we experience. This spark of life gives us otherworldly powers to overcome the nature of even the fiercest storm. “For yet a little while and the wicked shall not be.”[8] The little spark within us, where there is no wickedness, this is our personal ark that saves us from all corruption. This can be compared to a person who is drowning in the sea. Someone throws him a rope that he can hold on to. Whenever we hold on to the rope we can live. Drowning in the sea symbolizes the darkest feeling of despair, and the rope is the little spark within us, elevating us above our desperate situation, empowering us to return to our source – our sacred space of the ark.[9]

Come to the Word
The word in Hebrew for ark תֵּבָה – “teivah” also means “word.” “Come to the word”[10] of Torah and tefilah (prayer) G-d is telling us. This is true all year long, but especially now, right after the holidays when we have been earnestly working on ourselves. If we practice now doing things right, it will be easier all year long![11]

Sit comfortably in your chair, close your eyes and take deep breaths several times. Breathe deeply and feel completely relaxed in all of the limbs of your body.

1. After several minutes of relaxed breathing, imagine that you face the turbulent sea. There are bright shining threatening waves, as far as the eye can see.

2. Each stormy wave of “the waters of Noach” represents another one of your worries. Worries about your place in the world, about parnassah (money), your health, your children your future…Visualize how each worry is whisking over you, almost drowning you, making you pant for breath.

3. Within the sea of your worries, there is a light – a small light of peace. You hear a Heavenly Voice softly whispering into your ear ““Come to the ark.” –בֹּא אֶל הַתֵּבָה – “Come to the ark.” – בֹּא אֶל הַתֵּבָה.

4. Listen to the voice and enter into your personal ark. Now you can float safely above the waves of your worries. You are neither cold nor wet, just floating…. You are floating...floating allowing Hashem to steer the course.

5. Breathe deeply and relax even more, knowing that all your worries will evaporate in your trusting that Hashem will steer you to secure shores.

6. From within your ark, feel the waves of the flood above and below you, while you are being safe – safe inside of your teivah – your word of Torah and Tefilah – (prayer).

7. Pray to Hashem, “Hashem please save me!!!! Without you I will drown and perish.”

8. Feel Hashem’s presence and experience how the waters purify the world and yourself. Imagine how each foamy wave washes over you and cleanses you from all of your worries.

9. Remember When the flood of worries tries to engulf you, have faith in G-d. Instead of drowning, you will be lifted above the water by the teivah – words of prayer and learning.

10. Feel b’Noach – at rest, in complete peace with yourself. Take a breath in, as you imagine the sound “No.” Breathe out while you imagine the sound “Ach.” Repeat five times then open your eyes.

Worries mundane matters are sometimes referred to as “the waters of Noach.” In addition to the destruction, the flood also purified the world, and brought rest – noach – to G-d. So also there is inner purpose to the worries we experience that flood our lives. The worries are meant to force us into prayer and strengthen our faith in G-d.

The story of the flood can be a positive one. The solitude, quiet and relative security on the ark guided totally by G-d’s hand can provide comfort. An ark differs from a boat in that it has no steering mechanisms. The word teivah, ark, is only used in the Torah in reference to Noah’s vessel and to the basket in which baby Moses was sent off onto the Nile. In both cases, the hope of humanity was set afloat with G-d alone to steer the course.

Bereishit 9:15.
Tikunei Zohar 138b.
Bereishit 6:8.
Yalkut Shimoni, Yesha’yahu, chapter 56, allusion 485.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Noach, p. 51.
Babylonian Talmud, Kedushin 30b.
Bereishit 6:14.
Tehillim 37:10.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Noach, p. 52-53.
Bereishit 7:1.
Based on Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, Ascent of Safed, w:0659/Noach.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Calling out to G-d for the Hidden Light

Rebbetzin next to grape vines in her garden
As much as I love the beautiful fruitful holiday of Sukkot, I also treasure returning back to my routine renewed with blessings of light. After basking in the light of prayer, family and festive meals, the challenge is to extend the lights of Tishrei into the year.

Bereishit - A new beginning, the bar mitzvah parasha of my youngest son Netanel Shalom, now turning 16. No more balloons, treasure hunts and birthday games. Now he can begin to learn to drive. I hope that even if he drives away from us, he will always return. Likewise the lights of the holidays, even if we move away from them, will we return to them as they return to us?

The first parasha of the New Year introduces the Divine Eternal Light, which we, Jews, have the ability to call to us, at every moment, to illuminate the dark times of our life.

This week's parasha meditation below helps to light up the darkness of our unsettled confusions, and engender a settled mind and clarity.

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

Read Rebbetzin's Commentary to Haftorat Bereshit "The Holy Women who Protect Israel"

Parasha Meditaion Bereshit
Bereishit 1:1-6:8
Twofold Beginning
The world is born anew with a twofold beginning. The first word in the Torah בְּרֵאשִׁית – Bereishit – “in the beginning” can also be broken up to ב-רֵאשִׁית - two beginnings.[1] These two beginnings correspond to chesed and gevurah – love and awe. With these two מידות – attributes, G-d created the heavens and earth. Both the spiritual and the material realm were created by means of these two beginnings. Likewise everything on earth is created in pairs – masculine and feminine. Within the human being as well, we have two eyes, ears, arms, legs etc. The right eye, ear, arm etc. correspond to chesed, while the left to gevurah. Both of these opposite energies were unified in the Creation as it states “‘I am your G-d…’ and ‘Don’t have other gods’ were said together.”[2] “I am your G-d…”[3] includes all the positive mitzvoth deriving from chesed/love; and “Don’t have other gods…”[4] includes all the negative mitzvoth deriving from gevurah/awe. Although these two energies are opposed, they are unified in the spiritual realm. Perfected Divine service includes both attributes of chesed and gevurah as one. We need to carry out every single mitzvah that we perform – positive and negative alike through both love and awe. Serving Hashem through love entails giving Him the very best, whereas serving Him through awe entails overcoming ourselves and doing what is the very hardest for each of us. We were placed in this world specifically to rectify the thing that is the very hardest in life for us, where the yetzer hara (negative impulse) is strongest.[5]

חסד Chesed        גבורה Gevurah     

אהבה Love        יראה Awe
שמים Heavens        ארץ Earth
רוחני Spiritual        ארציים Mateiral
ימין Right        שמאל Left
אנוכי... The First Commandment        לא יהיה לך The Second Commandment
מצוות עשה The positive commandments        מצוות לא תעשה The Negative Commandments
נשמה Soul        גוף Body

Between Clarity and Confusion
וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם... – “The earth was desolate and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep…” וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי אוֹר – “And G-d said let there be light.”[6]

Why did the creation narrative specify what was before the creation of light? During the rest of the creation it only stated what Hashem created, without describing what was before their creation. Netivat Shalom explains that immediately at the beginning of creating heaven and earth, the Torah teaches us that creation is divided into two: the heavens connected to the realm of the soul, and the earth connected to the realm of the body. “The earth was desolate and void” – The earthly matters of the body, into which people sink down, bring us to desolation and void – that is confusion. The highest way of serving Hashem is through ישוב הדעת – yishuv ha’da’at – a settled mind and clarity, the opposite is desolation, void and a confused mind. All the earthly things even those permitted cause an unsettled mind and confusion. However, when the light of G-d that shines through us, “G-d said let there be light” – then we have the ability to raise up all the earthly matters to the service of Hashem.[7]

Oh G-d Let there be Light!
Although אור הגנוז – ohr haganuz – the hidden light was hidden away for the righteous in the World to Come, the light was never really buried, for had it been completely hidden away then the world would not have been able to exist even for one moment. Yet, it was buried like a seed concealed under the earth, while the seed disintegrates, it brings forth new life.[8] The very brightest Divine light is still with us, ready to be revealed when we ask for it. Without Divine light a Jew cannot survive even for one moment. When we experience great darkness, all we need to do is to call out to Hashem !אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר – “G-d let there be light!”[9] When we read the Torah verse וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר – “G-d said let there be light” without the first word וַיֹּאמֶר – “said,” then it becomes a prayer: “Please G-d let there be light!” When calling out to Hashem through the darkness of our life – “Oh Hashem I’m sinking in darkness, please enlighten my despair!” then Hashem helps us. He answers with His shining light, which was only hidden away for those who do not seek it. Yet, when we ask: “G-d let there be light…” then the continuation of the verse “…and there was light,” is activated.

Sit down. Make yourself comfortable in a quiet place where you can be alone with yourself for ten to fifteen minutes. Make sure you phones are turned off. Relax, close your eyes. Breath in relax, breath out relax, relax relax. Allow all the impressions of your day flow through you.

1. Let the right side of your forehead relax, your right eye, right ear, cheek, nose mouth and chin. Imagine and feel the entire right side of your head relaxed including the back of your head.

2. Imagine drawing the outline of the right side of your body, relax as you draw. The right side of your neck, your right shoulder, right upper arm, elbow, lower arm, each of the fingers, relax, relax relax.

3. Continue drawing in your mind’s eye up the underside of your hand, wrist, arm, all the way up to your armpit. From the armpit a curved line to your waist, extending outwards to the outline of your hip, relax, relax relax.

4. Continue drawing all the way down your right thigh, knee, calf, foot and toes, back up the foot to the ankle, the inside of your calf, knee, and thigh relax, relax relax.

5. Now continue from the point in between your legs down the inside of your left thigh, knee, calf, foot and toes, back up the foot to the ankle, the outside of your calf, knee, and thigh relax, relax relax.

6. Continue drawing in your mind’s eye up the extended outline of your left hip, the curved line to your waist, all the way up to your armpit relax, relax relax.

7. From the armpit draw the outline of the underside of your left arm all the way down to your wrist, then continue through each of the fingers, to the outer side of your hand, lower arm, elbow and upper arm all the way up to the left side of your neck relax, relax relax.

8. Allow your right ear to relax, your cheek, right eye and right side of your forehead. Feel how your entire body is relaxed, yet tingling with energy.

9. Try to imagine the entire outline of your body as you are seated today in your place, as you breathe deeply and relaxed.

10. Now focus on the point between your eyes, and imagine complete darkness, imagine the blackness of black mixed with different shades of darkness from murky darkness to the most pitch black darkness.

11. Imagine the darkness filled with gray clouds of confusion. Each cloud contains one of your personal confusions, something you are unclear about, different murky mixed up confusions about what to believe and what to do. Each cloud carries within its void desolation a particular confusion of yours.

12. Bring one of the murky clouds of confusion close, enlarge it in your mind’s eye, and open up the confusion residing within it. As you think about this particular issue for which you seek clarity and imagine it before you, pray silently to Hashem: !אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר – “G-d let there be light!” Visualize how G-d’s light begins to illuminate this dark cloud, which slowly evaporates. Feel your mind settle about this particular confused issue which has now been transformed to complete clarity. Repeat this with the rest of the murky clouds of confusion.

13. Breathe deeply and slowly from your nose as you feel the entire outline of your body both right and left illuminated with Divine tingling light.

“The people who walk in darkness saw a great light.”[10] This refers to the Oral Torah which is difficult and painful to learn. Some people lose sleep over it, and wear themselves out for its sake. They don’t eat, drink or sleep, and by means of this they merit to see great light – the hidden light which is revealed before them. By means of hard work in the Torah we can purify the earthly matters. “I have created the yetzer hara, I have created the Torah its antidote.”[11] Also on Shabbat, Ohr Haganuz – “The Hidden Light” is revealed.[12] On the holy Shabbat, we, Jews have the power to elevate all our earthliness. “You shall keep the Shabbat for it is holy (לָכֶם) to you.”[13] The word לָכֶם – “to you” can also refer to your matters. The light that shines on the holy Shabbat gives us the ability to sanctify even our own earthly matters which get illuminated by the Divine light.

[1] Tikunei Zohar 13a.
[2] Ben Yehoyada Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a.
[3] Shemot 20:2.
[4] Shemot 20:3.
[5] Netivat Shalom, Bereishit,Two Beginnings p. 16.
[6] Bereishit 1:2-3.
[7] Netivat Shalom, Bereishit “and there was light” page 17-19.
[8] Zohar, part 2, 148b- 148a.
[9] Bereishit 1:3.
[10] Yesha’yahu 9:1.
[11] Babylonian Talmud, Kedushin 30b.
[12] Zohar, part 1 21a.
[13] Shemot 31:14.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Within the Glorious Clouds of Divine Embrace

Rebbetzin's granddaughters enjoying the B'erot garden
Sukkot is my favorite time when we open ourselves to go with the flow. The Sukkah teaches us the importance of being flexible and creative, to keep moving and growing, like Hashem’s Cloud of Glory changing shape in its constant cycle of transformation. Throughout life unexpected things constantly come up to disrupt our routine and planning. When I first tried to prepare this meditation nothing came to mind. I had planned to use the only days available until my son would be home from yeshiva and my routine would change. My regular impulse was then to push myself nailed down to the computer in restless attempt to fill the screen with some kinds of inspiring wisdom. 

Yet, I let go, I went with the flow which was absent and settled for less demanding tasks. Perhaps I was not meant to come up with a new Sukkah meditation. I could easily circulate something from last year. Later the same day the flash came to me. I saw clearly the limitation of my planning. By making rigid plans I was assuming to be in charge. The I of my ego connected with this transient world had become blown up and bloated like a balloon ready to burst. As I accepted the limitations of my way, and “let go let G-d” – I felt supported by the Divine embrace of Hashem’s Clouds of Glory. 

I hope that the meditation below will also help you tune into Hashem’s Divine Sukkah Embrace.

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

Click here to read Rebbetzin's Dvar Torah on Simchat Torah: "The Rectification for the Golden Calf"

Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot
Sukkot Meditation
Together within Hashem’s Clouds of Glory
On Sukkoth we leave our more or less beautiful sturdy permanent houses and take shelter under the wobbly, rickety, flimsy, palm-branches exposed to the elements within boards or curtains that can hardly be called walls. As the halacha teaches the leaves of the Sukkah roof-top must be transpar­ent enough so that the twinkle of sparkling stars will be visible within.[1] Thus on Sukkot we discard the shell of the reliable concrete material wall, now contained within an ethereal substance – the Sukkah which is the embodiment of the Clouds of Glory protect­ing us in the wilder­ness. Rich and poor alike we are all in the same boat/Sukkah. We are all together within Hashem’s Clouds of Glory. A cloud is a being which floats between existence and non-existence. You see its constantly changing shape moving along the sky. If you try to grab it, or hold on to it, you might walk right through it. Its borders are not defined, yet it is still hovering over us and protecting us at this very moment. These sheer walls and roof of the Sukkah, translucently teach us to see beyond the illusion of our inherent material­ism.

Everything Eventually Evaporates

How do we feel in awe of the Shechina surrounding us through the Clouds of Glory? How do we get in touch with the Divine Presence enveloping us at this very moment? In order to get in touch with the Divine we have to free ourselves from the מחיצות – the barriers which separate us from the essence of life. In reality the barriers of the material are in themselves nothing but cloudlike vapor as King Shlomo teaches: “Vanity of vanities, says Kohelet, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”[2] The Hebrew word הֲבֵל translated as vanity literally means vapor. Thus King Shlomo teaches us that all our material possessions in essence are “Futility of futilities, breath of breaths’; vapor of vapors.” – Everything will eventually evaporate. The following parable illustrate this concept: A man approached one of the beggars of a group of blind beggars in the street and said: “Take this money and share it with the others.” However, he gave the beggar nothing. The others demanded their share of the money, which they thought he had received. Such is mankind – everyone strives for a share in the worldly pleasures they assume their neighbors have achieved. Yet in reality they achieved nothing – there is no true pleasure in the futilities of this world – “all is futile.”[3]

Dissolve Negativity
Things don’t exist unless we give them existence. They vaporize like the floating cloud, unless our inflexible mindset and words pin them down to a rigid reality. Enemies, sickness, jealousy, hatred, problems, none of them have permanent reality, but will float by us the same way as the cloud dissolves and merges and transforms itself in the everlasting sky. According to Halacha people who are not usual guests in a certain person’s home should not visit him the first three days when he is sick, in order not to establish his status as being sick, and thereby make his chances of recovery harder.[4]

Evaporating Evil by Meditating on the Only One
A story is told by the Debresciner Rav about how the Brisker Rav escaped with his family from Nazi Europe. Two weeks before, they began to prepare by learning the twelfth chapter of Nefesh Hachaim.[5] With a car and hired driver they miraculously passed one roadblock after another. At the border crossing, a gestapo peered into the car. “Why, these are Jews! He exclaimed and went to summon his commanding officer. In the meantime, the Brisker Rav gently reprimanded his family, “Who stopped meditating on “אין עוד מלבדו” – “Nothing exists but G-d”? When the commanding officer arrived, he looked in the car and said, “I see no problem here,” and motioned them across the border.

The Human Soul: Hashem’s Eternal Breath
In contrast to the transient nature of the material world, only that which is touched by the Divine breath has eternal value. “I realized that whatever G-d does will endure forever: Nothing can be added to it and nothing can be subtracted from it, and G-d has acted so that [man] should stand in awe of Him.”[6] What is transient and trivial is the handiwork of man – His buildings and baubles, his ambition and glory are nothing more than “Hevel” futility, substance-less vapor. Yet, the human soul was not fashioned from dust as was his body. – מאן דנפח מתוכיה נפח וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים. “G-d breathed into his nostrils a living soul.”[7] Whoever breathes – breathes from within himself. Because G-d is eternal, the human soul is eternal; and it will be called upon to answer for the deeds done while it was clothed in its earthly body. Since the only meaningful, everlasting part of the human’s existence is his soul and the spiritual good it brings about, Kohelet urges that indulgence in non-essential pleasures is worthless. The only thing that has everlasting existence is awe of G-d – יראת אלוקים. The sum of the matter, when all has been considered: Fear G-d and keep His commandments, for that is man’s whole duty.[8] The essentials of Divine existence are eternal and the Creator imparted the human being a vital role in His perpetual master plan.

Dwelling in the House of G-d
During our forty years wandering in the wilderness Hashem protected us with His Clouds of Glory. There were seven clouds, above, below, at the four sides, and one before them which would kill snakes and scorpions, straighten the mountains and the valleys for them, and burn the thorns. They would bring up smoke, and all the kings of the east and the west would see it, and the nations of the world would say “Who is this coming out of the wilderness like columns of smoke...” [9] These same protective glorious clouds are still with us today in the Sukkah – the house of Hashem. Through developing bitachon (trust) in Hashem and meditating on experiencing His protecting Clouds we will come close to dwelling in His palace. The Midrash teaches that “His left hand below my head”[10] refers to both the Clouds of Glory which surrounded Israel from above and from below[11] and to the Sukkah.[12] “…And his right hand embraces me”[13] refers to the Cloud of the Shechina in the future.[14] The Sukkah is likened to the Divine embrace. According to Halacha, in order for the Sukkah to be kosher, it must have at least two walls and a tefach – a handbreadth of a third wall. The “two walls” and a “handbreadth” are likened to an arm providing a great loving hug. These three walls also form the shape of the letter heh – ה.

Sukkah Meditation
1. Make yourself comfortable in the Sukkah, and take in its marvels with all of your senses.

2. Allow your eyes to glide and gaze upon the beauty of the walls, and the sechach (Sukkah roof). Keep in mind that the word Sukkah means to see.[15]

3. Listen to the sounds you hear in the Sukkah, and let them pass by you. Tune in to the songs of the birds or the wind rustling in the leaves above.

4. Open yourself to smell the heavenly scents of the Sukkah, perhaps the foliage in the Sukkah gives off a scent, and perhaps you can sense a scent of beyond.

5. Take a deep breath in as you turn your head upwards and raise your eyes to look at the sechach. Breathe out as you lower your head and your eyes to an inward gaze. Repeat this rhythmical breathing. The word Sukkah and sechach are related. The Sukkah is named in the name of its roof which completes it.[16] When you gaze upon the sechach you are taking in the entire Sukkah.

6. Continue breathing in while turning your head upwards and raising your eyes, and breathing out while lowering your head and eyes. Now add the silent sound of Sukah to your breathing. Inhale סו – Su, exhale כה – Kah. As you inhale feel the security of Hashem’s protection surrounding you like the circular shape of the Hebrew letter samech, and as you exhale visualize the samech open up into the Hebrew letter כ – kaf – your personal vessel to hold Hashem’s inner lights, and then the letter ה – heh – the shape of the three required walls of the Sukkah. Repeat this rhythmical breathing and visualization seven times.

7. Close your eyes and imagine the walls of your home expanding and opening up, and then as you go through these walls, additional walls appear of stone and wood and or any material you can think of. As you inhale you imagine a new wall appearing, as you exhale you imagine breaking through the wall. Repeat this rhythmical breathing and visualization until you break through seven walls.

8. Sense a very soothing warming light surrounding you. Feel the presence of Hashem’s light below you head and around your shoulders. Relax into a very soothing Divine embrace. Feel very safe and supported, resting in yourself, floating within the Clouds of Hashem’s soothing Glory. Enjoy feeling loved and protected. Feel how all your needs are taken care of. Delight in Hashem’s Divine presence. Experience the moment right now! You are dwelling in the house of Hashem!

New needs arise at different times for every person such as the need for healing, for financial security, to be saved from enemies etc. King David declared: “אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי” – “I asked for only one thing”[17] – “I do not ask for many things. I only asked one request in the past, this request I will always ask in the future; for in this request all requests are included. This request is “to dwell in the house of Hashem” כָּל יְמֵי חַיַּי – “all the days of my life.”[18] By means of this sole request, I will achieve all the particu­lar needs...[19] When we dwell in Hashem’s Sukkah, under His Clouds of Glory, and learn to understand the transient nature of everything connected to this world and its temporary pleasures, then we realize that all that matters is to cleave to Hashem and pray that we may dwell in His house forever.

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, Siman 626.
King Shlomo, Kohelet 1:2.
Parable of the Maggid of Dubno.
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 193, the laws of visiting the sick.
By Rav Chaim of Volozhin (1759-1829), top student of the Gaon of Vilna and founder of the Volozhin Yeshiva.
Kohelet 3:14.
Bereishit 2:7.
Kohelet 12:13.
Shir Hashirim 3:6, Midrash Tanchuma, Bamidbar, Chapter 2.
Shir Hashirim 2:6.
Midrash Zuta Shir Hashirim 2.
Midrash Rabah Shir Hashirim 2:19.
Shir Hashirim 2:6.
Midrash Rabah Shir Hashirim 2:19.
Rashi, Bereishit 11:29.
Tur, Orach Chaim, Siman 635.
Tehillim 27:4.
Malbim, Tehillim 27:6.