Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Alone with Your Soul

Chedva's stand up comedy during this week's B'erot concert
Netivat Shalom teaches that the life of a Jew is an eternal struggle. Ya’acov’s struggle with Esav’s angel of evil continues throughout all future generations. It represents our struggle with our yetzer hara and desire for physical pleasures for their own sake. This week’s meditation will help you in the work of peeling off the outer layers of ourselves – our physicality, until we remain alone with our soul, like Ya’acov.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Vayishlach "The Secret Power of Shema Yisrael"

Parasha Meditation Vayishlach
Bereishit 32:4-36:43
Overcoming the Husks of Lavan and Esav
This week’s parasha teaches us that the life of a Jew is filled with struggles, through which we ultimately will emerge victoriously. By means of wrestling Ya’acov overcame both the klipa (husk) of Lavan and that of Esav. The klipa of Lavan is lack of Emunah (faith). Lavan used the idol-worship of terafim to manipulate reality according to his own will.[1] He believed that everything was in his own power, as he said, “The daughters are my daughters, the sons are my sons, and everything you see is mine.”[2] This is why the Pesach Hagadah states, “Lavan wanted to uproot everything.” This alludes to Emunah, which is everything for a Jew. Thus the klipa of Lavan is to uproot Emunah from the Jewish people. Esav’s Klipa is ta’avah – physical desire and lust. This klipa has two parts as Ya’acov prayed, “Save me please from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav.” [3] The klipa of Esav refers to the desire for the forbidden, whereas the klipa of “my brother” represents lust within the realm of the permitted. Ya’acov prayed to be saved from both of these klipot.[4]

Lighting the Darkness of our Desires for Lowly Pleasures
Ya’acov’s struggle with Esav gives us guidelines for how to struggle with our yetzer hara (negative impulse). We learn that the rectification for the yetzer hara, is through “and the sun shone for him,”[5] giving us the ability to see clearly. Esav’s angel is called Sam-a-kel. This name can mean blinding G*d. The yetzer hara of Esav tries to blind our eyes from seeing G*d. Seeing Hashem and His power as the Creator prevents us from iniquity. When our eyes are opened to Hashem’s light, then the darkness of the desires of this world fades away, and ceases to attract us. Therefore, it states, “A man was fighting with him until the daybreak”[6] – meaning until the illumination of the light. When we experience the light of Hashem, then we will no longer fear even the power of Esav’s angel.[7]

Alone with the Soul
After having crossed the Yabok River, Ya’acov prepared himself for prophesy by removing the physical, corporal outer layers of himself, so his soul would remain alone with the upper spiritual light. This is the meaning of “Ya’acov was left alone.”[8] The name Ya’acov does not refer to his body, which is only his clothing, but rather, to the inner Ya’acov – to his soul.

Wrestling with the Body
Malbim explains that Ya’acov was able to remove all physical desires and strip off his body, until his essence (soul) remained alone. The “man [that] was wrestling with him”[9] refers to Ya’acov’s own physicality, which would not allow him to remove the corporal outer layer of himself. The “man” – his physical being – held on to him and tried to overcome him. The strength of his body – his physical powers were wrestling with Ya’acov – his spiritual forces, trying to prevent him from removing the manhood of his body.

Inner Struggle
The Talmud teaches that the dust kicked up by Ya’acov and his opponent during their struggle reached up to the Throne of Glory,[10] meaning that it penetrated until the root of his Neshama, reaching all the way to the root of Emunah. Ya’acov’s physical being – his yetzer hara represented by Esav’s angel, wanted to separate him from his root of Emunah. However, the power of evil was incapable of prevailing over Ya’acov, for he was able to overcome his physicality with the immense power of his soul.[11]

Eternal Victory over the Power of Evil
Ya’acov’s struggle has far reaching significance for us today. The fact that it reached up to the Throne of Glory, can also signify the effect of that struggle on all future generations. The Throne of Glory represents G*d’s Providence, the guiding force in history. Ya’acov was tested in all his limps, all his deeds, and all his spiritual powers. His victory empowers all of his seed and the generations after him to prevail against evil in the world.

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. After several minutes of relaxed breathing, imagine you are standing by a river. Visualize the clean water flowing down. See yourself in the mirror of the clear waters. What do you see?

2. Notice that you are totally alone with yourself, surrounded by darkness. וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב לְבַדּו – “And Ya’acov was left alone.”[12] Get in touch with the feeling of being alone in your own skin. No pressures from outside, no distractions, nothing to conform to, no-one to try to please, just alone with yourself.

3. You are לְבַדּ – alone. You are at one with your heart – Lev/לֵב followed by the dalet/ד – the letter of humility that has nothing of her own – Levad/.לְבַדּ Inhale le/לְ, exhale vad/בַדּ, repeat five times.

4. Imagine your most beloved material possessions, your favorite outfit… your comfortable bed… your expensive pen… anything that you own, which you treasure. Imagine letting go of each of these possessions, one by one as you breathe Levad/לְבַדּ. Inhale le/לְ, exhale vad/בַדּ.

5. Visualize yourself stripped of the outer layers of your stuff, just alone with your naked essence – alone to the core, comfortable with yourself, not in need of anything Levad/.לְבַדּ Inhale le/לְ, exhale vad/בַדּ, repeat five times.

6. Go deeper into feeling alone with your essence, even beyond your body. Let go of your worries about your health. Give them all up to Hashem, and breathe into the knowledge that you have nothing. It’s all Hashem’s even your body. Try giving it up to Him.

7. וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ –“A man was wrestling with him.”[13] Tune into your own inner struggle. Remember one incident where your body and soul played tug of war. Your Neshama wanted so badly to do this particular mitzvah, but your body pulled you the other way. Perhaps you didn’t want to spend all that money, or give away that precious possession, possibly your body was tired, lazy, didn’t feel like exerting and extending yourself.

8. Imagine the glow of your soul as a bright ball of light, and enter your selfishness, laziness, tiredness etc. into this light-ball. Visualize how all of it is melting away, disintegrating, allowing your Neshama to get the upper hand. Yet, you still feel the struggle of yourself within yourself on a deeper level. Tune into the struggle to let go, and let G*d, the struggle to let go of what you have worked so hard to attain.

9. Visualize that which is dearest to you in this world, feel the pull. Get in touch with the pain of having to leave even this, and be alone, completely alone with your Neshama. Levad/לְבַדּ – Inhale le/,לְ exhale vad/בַדּ, repeat five times.

10. Now visualize the word Yisrael/יִשְׂרָאֵל – the yud י , shinש, reishר, alef א and lamed ל. Yisrael/יִשְׂרָאֵל.

11. You may be slowed down but you are not overwhelmed; you persevere. יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael.
This name can also be read Yashar El – the one who G*d makes straight. יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael. The one who is straight to G*d. יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael.

12. Inhale Yish/יִשְׂ, exhale rael/רָאֵל, repeat five times. Breathe יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael, into your head – ראש. Breathe יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael into any part of yourself which is tense, painful or tired. יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael. Notice whether you feel invigorated, empowered and victorious. You have prevailed, “you have struggled with Divinity and Humanity and you have prevailed!”[14]

Bereishit 32:14-33 tells the story of Ya’acov preparing to face Esav by facing his own shadow side by the river. Before Ya’acov could confront Esav in person he had to confront the power of Esav – Esav's angel, which is hence his own yetzer hara, hence the general yetzer hara of the world.[15] After this encounter, Ya’acov receives a new name: Yisra El – the one who struggles with G*d. The same name can also mean “straight to G*d,” because through wrestling, he came face to face with Hashem. The struggle is the essence of the name Yisrael. The fate of the Jewish people is one of constant wrestle. How do we derive the power to carry on these struggles? The Midrash states:[16] “There is none like G*d; yet who is like G*d? Yeshurun – (Yisrael).” Just as it is written of Hashem, “Hashem alone shall be exalted.”[17] So, too, “Ya’acov was left alone.”[18] Both Hashem and Israel have the ability of being alone. No outside power can affect Hashem, by adding to or subtracting from His Essence. Israel has the ability to emulate Hashem in this respect. When we know who we are, then nothing external, no problem or challenge, can stop us. With the inner strength of character, we can recognize that all external obstacles are just that – external. We know that even our failures are only in unessential matters. When our essence remains untouched, we stay strong.

[1] Bereishit 31:19.
Bereishit  31:43.
Bereishit 32:12.
[4] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Vayislach pp. 212-13.
Bereishit 32:32.
Bereishit 32:28.
[7] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Vayislach p. 215.
Bereishit  32:25.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Babylonian Talmud, Chulin 91a.
[11] Malbim, Rabbi Meir Loeb ben Yechiel Michael, Ukraine, 1809-1879, Bereishit 32:25.
Bereishit  32:25.
[13] Ibid.
Bereishit 32:29 freely translated.
[15] Op cit. Malbim, 
Bereishit 32:25.
[16] Bereishit Rabah, Parasha 77, Piska 1.
[17] Yeshayahu 2:11.
Bereishit 32:25.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stepping Inwards on the Ladder of Ascent

Shaindel and Nili in the Beit Midrash
 B”H we are getting closer to placing the corner stone of our permanent building. All of you have the opportunity to place your rock in building Holistic Torah for Women on the Land.

In addition to building a physical building we also need to build our inner world. This week’s parasha meditation comes to facilitate building our relationship with Hashem, and our inner core. I personally believe that Hashem is shaking us up at these times, to make us really pray from a deeper place within, so we can become closer to Him and to our inner selves, and bring Mashiach already.

Let us all try to build both outwardly, while also stepping inwardly, to become the very best people we can be!

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Vayetze: "Ya’acov’s Toil to Deserve His Wives"

Parasha Meditation Vayetze
Bereishit 28:10-32:3 
בראשית פרק כח, פסוק יב וַיַּחֲלֹם וְהִנֵּה סֻלָּם מֻצָּב אַרְצָה וְרֹאשׁוֹ מַגִּיעַ הַשָּׁמָיְמָה וְהִנֵּה מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים עֹלִים וְיֹרְדִים בּוֹ: 
“He dreamed, and behold a ladder is standing on the earth, but its head reaches heaven…”[1]

The metaphor of Ya’acov’s ladder lends itself to profound meditation. The ladder symbolizes the connection that links earth to heaven, matter below to spirit Above, and us to G*d.

Keeping our Head in Heaven with our Feet on the Ground
Netivat Shalom explains that this world is like a ladder standing on the earth, while its head reaches heaven. Through being involved with earthly matters, we can reach the very highest level, until our “head reaches heaven.” We have the opportunity to elevate ourselves and cleave to Hashem, specifically by elevating the earthly lowly matters towards heavenly levels. The Torah verse also teaches us, that even when we are involved in matters of this world, we mustn’t forget to keep our head in heaven. When we really desire to elevate the physical and bring heaven down to earth, then Hashem will watch over us and help us. We learn this from the following verse “וְהִנֵּה הַשֵם נִצָּב עָלָיו” – “Behold, Hashem was standing over him,”[2] – to guard him.[3] When we desire to sanctify ourselves, Hashem will guard us with a protection beyond nature.[4]

The Ladder Within
Ya’acov’s ladder teaches us about how our relationship with Hashem in truth is a relationship with our own inner core. Hashem is the underlying structure of all of existence, including our own existence. Alienation from G*d, means alienation from the depths of the self. A relationship with Hashem means a relationship with our own inner core, with the reality of our reality. 

מדרש רבה בראשית פרשה סח פסקה יב רבי חייא ורבי ינאי חד אמר עולים ויורדין בסולם וחד אמר עולים ויורדים ביעקב
Rabbi Chia said they ascend and descend on the ladder, Rabbi Yanhai said that they ascend and descend in Ya’acov.[5]

During his dream of the ladder, Ya’acov was looking into himself. We learn this from the word “bo” “...Behold, angels of G*d are ascending and descending ‘bo.’” The preposition ‘bo’ can mean either ‘on it,’ ‘in it’ or ‘in him.’
שפת אמת ספר בראשית - פרשת ויצא - שנת [תרמ”ז] כי באמת האדם עצמו הוא הסולם ויש בו פנימיות הנשמה חלק אלוה ממעל רמז לבחי’ וה’ נצב עליו כנ”ל 
In truth, the person himself is the ladder, and within him is the inner Neshama a part of G*d from Above, this hints to the aspect “G*d was standing upon him.”[6]

The Ladder of Ascent
Various levels of consciousness exist between us and our Divine self. Each rung represents a gradual ascent whereby we can earn wisdom and perfection one step at a time. As the ladder has no moving parts, it symbolizes ascent by way of our own personal effort. The Ladder reminds us that reaching the highest realms of consciousness is not a short, swift journey. However, we must also keep in mind that no journey is without its rests and pauses. Therefore, whenever we require a respite during our spiritual ascent, the rungs of the ladder provide us with the support and strength we need until we are ready to take our next step upward.

Sit comfortably in your chair, close your eyes. Take several deep breaths, and let go of anything you are may be holding on to.

1. Breathe in Hashem’s life-giving energy, breathe out tensions, negativity and worry. Breathe deeply and feel completely relaxed in all of the limbs of your body. Relax, get yourself in a meditative mode, and imagine that you are Yaakov, “asleep, but your heart is awake.”[7]

2. Imagine a ladder in your mind’s eye. Try to visualize its shape and color. Is it a small indoor ladder, or a larger gardening ladder? Is it made from wood, metal or another material? What is its color? Perhaps it has more than one color? How many rungs does it have?

3. Now imagine yourself standing at the bottom of this ladder. Which difficulties and fears make it hard for you to take the first step to ascend the ladder? Perhaps it is negative habits, addictions, lashon hara, mitzvoth that are difficult for you. Try to identify these blocks and then try to connect with the light of Hashem which always comes down from Above.

4. Visualize Hashem’s light entering all of your negative actions and gradually melting them away. Then take the first step to the bottom of the ladder. This is the level of ארץ – Earth / Malchut. You will be ascending the ladder from below on earth towards heaven above. Imagine saying the word “Amen” twice in your mind’s eye as you leave each rung to climb the next rung of the ladder.

5. As you now stand on the bottom of the ladder, feel yourself standing firmly; get in touch with the thing on earth which supports you, your daily routines, the people who are close to you, your support system. Get in touch with Hashem’s light that flows through all the channels of your support system into yourself. Now look up at the first rung. What blocks you from taking your first step? Which negative emotions are you struggling with, anger, worry, fears and doubts?

6. Visualize Hashem’s light entering into all your negative emotions and gradually melting them away. See if you feel like taking another step onto the first rung of the ladder, as you say “Amen” in your mind’s eye. You are now reaching the first rung.

7. The First Rung וילוןVilon/Veil/Yesod
Imagine that you are now entering the veil of the Heavens, where the Divine light is indwelling in all physical and psychological substance. Remain on the first rung as you imagine Hashem’s light within you. Get in touch with the dream of your life, the things you always wanted to accomplish, but so far didn’t reach. Visualize fulfilling your dream. When you are ready, recite the word “Amen” twice in your mind’s eye, and take some deep relaxing breaths as you ascend the second rung of the ladder.

8. The Second Rung רקיעRakia/Expanse/Hod
Imagine the bright light of the sun warming you. Our body is continually filled with Hashem’s light and love. Even when we don’t see it or feel it, we know that we are filled with Hashem’s light. From your place on the ladder, send Hashem’s light and love to someone you love very much, or someone you know really needs it. Now imagine the soft light of the moon, stars and constellations on a dark blue sky. Enjoy basking in the soft glow with the knowledge that Hashem guides all your ways through His faithful servants. Now visualize the letters of the word “Amen” Alef, Mem and Nun and repeat the word while you breathe calmly and step up to the third rung.

9. The Third Rung שחקים Shachakim/Clouds/Netzach
You are walking in a thick white mist. Your feet tread lightly upon the flimsy ground, lifted, by the wonder and awe in your heart. You are chasing something, some mysterious beauty, which hides behind the endless appearances of its perfection. There is no separation between one moment and the next, one victory and the next that you fathom in your mind’s eye. Each success you have accomplished blends into a greater success, as you imagine all the obstacles in your life that you succeeded to overcome. They are all so different, yet they are one and the same. Visualize the manna flowing down to you and taste its heavenly taste. Now imagine saying “Amen” twice, and take some deep breaths preparing yourself to ascent to the fourth rung.

10. The Fourth Rung זבולZevul/ Habitation/ Tiferet
Imagine a beautiful garden, and in its center the outline of the house you can call “home.” Imagine your true home. This home has always been the home of your wandering soul. Feel assured that you are not lost. Even as the vision fades from your mind’s eye, and the dark clouds of your ordinary consciousness obscure its beautiful garden, you are ascertained that there is a place where you belong, a place in complete harmony with the essence of who you are, and with your name. Your home is connected to the heavenly Jerusalem (Yerushalayim shel Ma’ala). Visualize the Temple, and its altar upon which Michael the arch-angel and great prince stands and offers his offering. Take another few deep breaths. Recite “amen” twice in your mind, as you prepare yourself to ascent to the fifth rung.

11. The Fifth Rung מעון Maon/ Dwelling place/ Gevurah
In this realm you need to deal with your shadow side, the part of yourself repressed to the rear by un-rectified knots. It could be knots of deep seated jealousy, hatred, and desire to injure others and yourself in order to survive. It could be your darkest fear, or your deepest self-hatred. Imagine your Gevurah, cracking each of these un-rectified nuts. See them melt away while you bring Hashem’s light into each of them. Imagine the pitch dark night, and hearing the ministering angels singing songs of praises to Hashem. You can now rest at peace in Ma’on, in your personal refuge in the midst of spiritual warfare. No matter what kinds of adversities you may be facing, you have found a place of peace in a land at war. Find this Heaven in your heart. This secret place in your heart is beyond suffering. You may judge all things according to their nature and actions, and annihilate all things by means of love for their opposite, yet the emptiness of this sanctuary of peace is exempt. “Amen, Amen” you recite, as you take some deep breaths and visualize entering the sixth rung.

12. The Sixth Rung מכון Machon/ Established Place/ Chesed
Go through the doors of fire and the chambers of vapor, storm, whirlwind and hail until you reach absolute Chesed. “For I have said, the world is built by Chesed – love, you establish your faithfulness in the very heavens.”[8] “כִּי אָמַרְתִּי עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה שָׁמַיִם תָּכִן אֱמוּנָתְךָ בָהֶם” Get in touch with your absolute Chesed, which is changeless and constant in its perfection. It is the most fundamental of all, a template and foundation for all which follows; the first certainty of G*d’s creation. Feel your love emanating from the spring of His eternal love and allow it to fill your heart, and from there your entire being as you keep breathing slow loving breaths. Feel how much you love yourself and everyone else in your world. “Amen, Amen,” continue your loving breaths, as you imagine entering the seventh and final rung.

13. The Seventh Rung ערבותAravot/ Desert/ Empty Expanse/ Keter/Chachmah/Binah
You are now floating into the holy heaven of Aravot, filled with the treasures of life, the treasures of peace, and the treasures of blessing. You meet there the souls of the righteous, and the spirits and souls which are about to be created. Imagine the glittering dew in the sun with which the Holy One, blessed be He, is about to review the dead. There also are celestials, seraphs, and holy beings and ministering angels and the throne of glory, and the King, the Living G*d, high and uplifted, sitting over them among the clouds, and darkness and cloud and thick darkness surround Him. There is again a firmament above the heads of the living creatures “shining like the glitter of the purest crystal.”[9] Now allow your mind to empty as you get in touch with that emptiness which is, paradoxically, most full. It is the emptiness of particular forms, in which all forms find their source. Nothing and all things are contained herein.

14. “:שִׁירוּ לֵאלֹהִים זַמְּרוּ שְׁמוֹ סֹלּוּ לָרֹכֵב בָּעֲרָבוֹת בְּיָהּ שְׁמוֹ וְעִלְזוּ לְפָנָיו”–“Sing to G*d, sing praises to His name, extol Him who rides upon the aravot – highest heaven – in Y-a His name, and rejoice before him.”[10] The word “Aravot” which is often translated as “highest heaven” also means mixture, since this heaven is a mixture of fire and water. In this realm feel your deepest gratitude for all the goodness in your life, which arouses your deepest desire to praise Hashem in the very highest way. Know in your heart of hearts that Hashem stands beside you. Hear in your inner ear Him say to you:

 וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ וַהֲשִׁבֹתִיךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה הַזֹּאת כִּי לֹא אֶעֱזָבְך
“I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go. I will return you to this earth. For I will not leave you...”[11] “Amen Amen!”

15. Slowly begin to go down each of the rungs of the ladder from the highest heaven downwards. From the seventh and highest heaven Aravot, to the sixth realm of Machon, descending into the fifth level of Ma’on, until you come to the fourth rung of Zevul. Plunging down to the third realm of Shachakim, descending down to the second level of Rakia, followed by the first rung of Vilon, until you finally return from your heavenly journey and reach the Earth. You are back on the ground, take some soft steps with your feet on the floor, and tap your hands on the table before you release your arms and legs, then open your eyes.

The Symbolism and Imagery of Ladders
Going up the ladder is the spiritual stairway through which we can approach our Divine self, and reach higher realms of consciousness in our quest for spiritual perfection.

The two vertical uprights of the ladder symbolize that our upward ascent, from the bottom-most rung to the upper-most rung, is a journey through the realm of duality. Before we can step up to the next higher rung on the ladder we must first experience and master the lessons of duality which exist at our current level of elevation. As we steadfastly ascend the rungs of the ladder we slowly elevate ourselves, higher and higher, above the lower plane of the superficial and mundane. Upon reaching the higher rungs of the ladder, we begin to breathe in the rarefied air of Higher Consciousness. It is at these higher levels of consciousness that the mysteries of Eternity slowly begin to unveil their secrets to us.

The Divine unified realm is beyond all frustrations, confusions and restraints of the material world. Only tzadikim reach the top-most rung of the ladder – the realm of highest consciousness. Reaching this level through personal desire and effort enables the tzadik to transcend duality and achieve entrance into the Infinite domain of Enlightenment and Unity. May we learn to access the light of our Neshama as we gradually climb Ya’acov’s ladder one rung at a time! May the inner light of each of us shine forth and uplift our personal surroundings this month, from the inside out!

[1] Bereishit 28:12.
[2] Bereishit 28:13.
[3] Rashi, Bereishit 28:13.
[4] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Vayetze pp. 183-184.
[5] Bereishit Rabah, Parasha 68, Piska 12.
[6] Sefat Emet, Bereishit, Vayetze 5647.
[7] Based on Shir HaShirim 5:2.
[8] Tehillim 89:3.
[9] Babylonian Talmud, Chagiga 12b, Yechezkiel 1:22.
[10] Ibid. 68:5.
[11] Bereishit 12:15.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Revealing the Well of Living Waters Within

By the natural spring near Bat Ayin
Finally the blessed rain is here. The thirsty greens lift their heads to suck in the nourishing waters. Water is a metaphor for Torah.[1] The source of the waters is below the surface of the earth. Likewise, the truth of the Torah is buried beyond the surface reading of misinterpretation. Searching for truth is like digging wells. It is hard work, and it takes a lot of persistence. Just as Yitzchak re-dug the wells of Avraham his father, we need to dig deeply into the core of our souls for the living waters. Removing the blocks of falsehood empowers us to grasp the kernels of truth. 

In our psyche, there are spiritual, emotional and physical blocks, which we must remove in order to reconnect with the truth we knew before we were born. I have designed this meditation to remove the blocks in the way, and facilitate connection with the Source of Living Waters within.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

 Read "The “Esavs” and the “Ya’acovs” of Today" - Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Toldot

Parasha Meditation Toldot
Bereishit 25:19-28:9
Removing the veils of the Physical World
In this week’s parasha Yitzchak re-digs the ancestral wells in search of water.

בראשית כו (יח) וַיָּשָׁב יִצְחָק וַיַּחְפֹּר אֶת בְּאֵרֹת הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר חָפְרוּ בִּימֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיו וַיְסַתְּמוּם פְּלִשְׁתִּים אַחֲרֵי מוֹת אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקְרָא לָהֶן שֵׁמוֹת כַּשֵּׁמֹת אֲשֶׁר קָרָא לָהֶן אָבִיו:
“Yitzchak dug again the wells of water, which they had dug in the days of Avraham his father; for the Pelishtim had stopped them up after the death of Avraham. And he called the names after the names by which his father had called them.”[2] 

The spiritual work of Yitzchak was to dig wells. The purpose of this work is to reveal the living waters, which exist under the ground, and to raise it up. It is not the purpose to make waters flow into the wells from another source; but only to reveal the living waters, which is already found within the wells themselves. For in truth, these wells retain by themselves the living waters. Yet they are covered up with dirt, pebbles and mud. When one removes these blockages, the living water is revealed. This work teaches us about Yitzchak’s spiritual work – To remove all the veils of the physical world, and transform it into a vessel for Divinity – to raise it up from below to above. Like the living waters themselves, which rise up from below.[3]

Digging Wells & Raising Sparks to live in Perfect Peace in the Land
בראשית כו (יט) וַיַּחְפְּרוּ עַבְדֵי יִצְחָק בַּנָּחַל וַיִּמְצְאוּ שָׁם בְּאֵר מַיִם חַיִּים: (כ) וַיָּרִיבוּ רֹעֵי גְרָר עִם רֹעֵי יִצְחָק לֵאמֹר לָנוּ הַמָּיִם וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם הַבְּאֵר עֵשֶׂק כִּי הִתְעַשְּׂקוּ עִמּוֹ: (כא) וַיַּחְפְּרוּ בְּאֵר אַחֶרֶת וַיָּרִיבוּ גַּם עָלֶיהָ וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמָהּ שִׂטְנָה: (כב) וַיַּעְתֵּק מִשָּׁם וַיַּחְפֹּר בְּאֵר אַחֶרֶת וְלֹא רָבוּ עָלֶיהָ וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמָהּ רְחֹבוֹת וַיֹּאמֶר כִּי עַתָּה הִרְחִיב הַשֵם לָנוּ וּפָרִינוּ בָאָרֶץ:
“Yitzchak's servants dug in the valley, and found there a well of living water. And the herdsmen of Gerar strove with Yitzchak's herdsmen, saying, ‘the water is ours’: He called the name of the well Esek; because they strove with him. And they dug another well, and strove also over that: and he called its name Sitna. He removed from there, and dug another well; which they did not strive over: and he called its name Rechovot; and he said, ‘for now Hashem has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.’”[4]

Yitzchak had to deal with the negative forces that attempted to prevent his holy work of digging the wells. Although the herdsmen of Avimelech chased Yitzchak’s herdsmen away and shut up the wells, he was not discouraged, but continued to dig the wells, until he reached “Rechovot” – “For now the Hashem has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”[5] He was finally successful in separating and raising the sparks from their shells in order to live in perfect peace in the Holy Land.

Digging through Dirt, Pebbles & Mud to Reconnect with our Source
Yitzchak was going through contention and conflict, in order to re-dig the wells of Avraham – his spiritual heritage. We, likewise, are going through much turmoil, and many challenges, in order to reconnect with our source. We must dig deeply through dirt, pebbles and mud, and remove all of the blockages that block us from returning to the well of our mothers and fathers – “the well of living waters.” The way to our own source is paved with difficulties, but we cannot just take the easy way out and dig new wells, because only the wells of Avraham will reveal the true “living waters” for us. This is why it is so important to choose only a Mitzvah-observant spiritual healer and teacher of Jewish meditation – someone who drinks from the wells of Avraham – rather than from wells from “the other side,” which may possibly bring healing. However, healing from impure wells, which are not from the well of holiness, will not elevate the Jewish Neshama (soul).

Rediscovering our Truth Before we were Born
In the work of digging wells, we relearn something, which was always part of our Neshama – The truth, which has been taught to us even before we were born, but buried deeply within our being. The well buried within us, is concealed by many layers of blockages. It could be covered up by secular upbringing, the Western culture and our own inclination to separate ourselves from G-d.

Removing the Blocks to Reconnect with Divine Light
There are spiritual blocks such as negative energy, lack of emunah (faith) and lack of tefilah (prayer). Emotional blocks include fear, trauma, guilt and anger, whereas physical blocks could be caused by pain, injury, shock and even lack of certain vitamins. In Emunahealing and meditation we can dig through the dirt, pebbles and mud of all of these blockages in order to reconnect with Hashem’s light within us reflected in “the well of living waters.”

Sit comfortably in your chair, close your eyes, and take several deep breaths. Continue to breathe deeply, until you feel completely relaxed in all of the limbs of your body.

1. After a minute or two of relaxed breathing, imagine the word בְּאֵרBe’er (well). Inhale as you visualize בְּ Be, exhale as you visualize אֵר er. Repeat this four times.

2. Now imagine that you inhale the living waters into your head, and exhale all the blocks of dirt, pebbles and mud from your head. Repeat this several times, allowing the cleansing waters to enter your forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, ears, mouth, chin, cheeks and the back of your head, as you inhale, while the dirt, pebbles and mud are washed away from all these parts of your head when your exhale.

3. Imagine how you wash away negative energy, lack of emunah (faith), and lack of i (prayer). Visualize how the well-water opens your spiritual energy fields and recharges your head with emunah, unity and clarity.

4. Allow the waters to cascade down your shoulders and arms and then focus on inhaling living waters to your heart, and exhaling all the dirt, pebbles and mud of your fears, pains, angers, traumas and childhood injuries from your heart.

5. Visualize how the well-water opens your emotional energy fields, and recharges your heart with love acceptance and humility.

6. Allow the waters to cleanse the right chamber, then the left chamber of your heart, and all of the blood-vessels. Allow the waters of the well to enter your bloodstream and purify it.

7. Now visualize your liver on your right side below your ribcage. Imagine the well-water entering your liver, and purifying it from the toxins of your injuries, shocks and unhealthy eating.

8. Visualize how the waters of the well opens your physical energy fields, and recharges your liver with renewed energy, commitment to refining your lifestyle.

9. Allow the well of the living waters to rush through your entire being, and remove all the blocks that block you from being in touch with Hashem within.

10. Repeat once again imagining the word בְּאֵרBe’er (well). Inhale as you visualize בְּ Be, exhale as you visualize אֵר er. Repeat this four additional times.

11. Let your breath to flow naturally, as you allow yourself to just be. Feel how cleansed you have become from your spiritual, emotional and physical blocks. Now you can feel Hashem’s light emanating and illuminating your entire being. Take a few concluding breaths as you experience the presence of Hashem within you – your own “Well of Living Waters.”

The word “B’erot” means wells. Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin is named after the wells in the Torah. Here, we do the work of re-digging the wells of our mothers. We do a lot of digging at B’erot, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Through our spiritual digging – “soul- gym” we expand our souls and open their never ending springs. Through gardening and creativity we allow the wells of Torah to flow outwards and be expressed in various garments. Our yearning to express ourselves through dance, drama, painting and song is being reclaimed, as vehicles to allow our personal expressions of the waters of the living well – our holy Torah. Drawing out the well and allowing its water to flow outwardly, causes the inner spring to be opened even more. Like a nursing mother, the more the baby sucks to extract the milk, the more milk is produced within her breasts. By re-digging the wells, and allowing them to be expressed through the garments of our creativity, we receive the ability to bring home the hidden sparks, even from the furthest exile. Students from the four corners of the earth, descendants of Anusim (crypto-Jews), Keifeng Jews, B’nei Menashe, as well as young women emerging from the Western exile keep knocking on our doors. Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin is a learning environment for women who seek to reconnect with their own inner source, Hashem within, and express their personal wellsprings in all the colorful language of their souls.

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Baba Kama 82a.
[2] Bereishit 26:18.
[3] Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson (The last Lubawitzcher Rabbi), commentary on the Torah, Parashat Vayera.
[4] Bereishit 26:19-22.
[5] Bereishit 26:22.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

With Hashem in the Field

Joy | Blessing | Awe
As we enjoy a blessed fall of comfortable cooler weather, the students of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin warm themselves with Torah and Herbal teas from our garden. We have a wonderful group of very intelligent expressive students, with lots of great energy. I’m so proud of our talented Azamra B’erot Band, fulfilling my vision of integrating Torah & creativity. 

The Midrasha garden also bursts forth amazing crops of humongous pumpkin, kale, Swiss chard and more, in addition to a selection of edible weeds that I teach my students how to use. This time when the weather is pleasant, is a perfect time to practice meditating in the field as Yitzchak did in this week’s Parasha. 

I hope you will have opportunity to practice my Parasha Meditation, which is designed to help us feel Hashem’s presence in nature and spiritualizing the garments of our souls. 

Blessings of the Torah and the Land,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read "Developing our Feminine Attribute of Binah" - Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Chayei Sarah
Parasha Meditation Chayei Sarah
Bereishit 23:1-25:18
The Torah Source for Jewish Meditation
This week’s parasha is about finding a wife for Yitzchak and about Yitzchak’s prayer for his soul-mate. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan discovered the first source for Jewish meditation in this week’s parasha, where it states that “Yitzchak went out to speak (lasuach) in the field (ba-sadeh).”[1]
וַיֵּצֵא יִצְחָק לָשׂוּחַ בַּשָּׂדֶה לִפְנוֹת עָרֶב וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה גְמַלִּים בָּאִים
“Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field towards the evening, and he lifted his eyes and saw, behold camels were coming.”[2]

The Solitude of the Field
Experiencing the solitude of the field and connecting with nature while watching the sheep is conducive to contemplation and communion with G-d. Our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’acov, were shepherds because this vocation offered perfect opportunity for meditative connection with Hashem. According to Rashi, when “Yitzchak went out lasuach in the field,” he was praying to Hashem. We learn this from the way the word lasuach is used in Tehillim:[3] “A Prayer of the afflicted…when he fainted, and poured out his prayer (sicho) before Hashem.”[4]

Praying in the Field
Rashbam finds a parallel to the word lasuach in the word scrub (siach) mentioned in the creation story.[5] He explains that Yitzchak went out in the field to inspect his crop.[6] Chizkuni synthesizes these two views, explaining, that Yitzchak went out of the Garden of Eden where he had been living for the last three years since his Akeida (near-sacrifice). He went out in order to (lasuach) plant trees, and to inspect his work, but also in order to (lasuach) converse/pray.[7] 

Prayer for Spiritual Crop with His Life Partner
Imagine Yitzchak walking between his plants (sichim) enjoying the beauty of Hashem’s blessings manifested in the majestic trees, as the sun is beginning to set behind the hills. While he inspects his plantings, he pours out his heart to Hashem in prayer, the prayer for his crop, shifts to the prayer for his spiritual crop – the offspring that he yearns for, shifting to the prayer from the deepest part of his soul, the prayer for his life-partner in serving Hashem and bringing forth children – the prayer for a wife.[8] Immediately, as he completes his prayer – the mincha (afternoon) prayer that he established for all future generations,[9] at this pivotal moment, “he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming,”[10] bringing his soul-mate Rivka towards him.

The Power of the Mincha (Afternoon) Prayer
Yitzchak’s afternoon prayer for his soul-mate was immediately answered. From here we learn that especially the mincha (afternoon) prayer is answered.[11] Yitzchak’s prayer close to the sunset also hints that “before the sun of Sarah set, the sun of Rivkah shines.”[12] “Therefore, Scripture informs us that Rivkah came close to sunset… so that these righteous women, who are like the orbit of the sun, should never lack from the world; and in order that there should never lack a lit candle in the tent, an overhanging cloud and the blessing in the dough.”[13]

Hitbodedut before Rabbi Nachman
One of the earlier supports for Biblical hitbodedut (speaking with Hashem in the field), advocated so highly by Rabbi Nachman, is the Sforno who explains that when “Yitzchak went out lasuach” – he turned away from the main road, in order to pour out his prayer before Hashem in the quiet field where he wouldn’t be interrupted by other people.[14]

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

1. After a minute or two of relaxing breathing imagine that you are alone in the middle of a lush field. There are no other people, only trees, shrubs, herbs and grass. Enjoy looking at the lushness of the leaves, the textures of the branches, feel the crispy moist earth under your feet.

2. Inhale the fresh smells of the leaves and grasses after the rain. Hear the rustling of the trees in the wind, and the song of the birds in their branches. Taste the tastes of clean fresh air as you inhale both from your nose and your mouth.

3. Now imagine how all the beauty of nature, that you behold, inspires you to pour out your soul in the deepest prayer. As you pray, imagine how every blade of grass, every tree-branch, every bird of the field joins your prayer, imagine how the entire field becomes energized, sanctified and synchronized with your breath of prayer.

4. Visualize the letters that spell out the word שָּׂדֶה (field) First the fiery sin ש with its three flames denoting shinui – change – as you enter the new energy field of prayer. 

5. Moving through the door of the letter dalet ד the – the poor –”that has nothing [d’leit] of her own.” Feel your own lowliness how you possess nothing of your own – how you are an empty vessel ready to receive Hashem’s blessings.

6. As you move to visualizing the last letter of the word שָּׂדֶה the letter ה receive your gift from Hashem and manifest it into all the three garments of your soul – thought, speech and action.

7. Visualize the upper horizontal line of the ה while imagining Hashem purifying and filling your faculty of thought with His light.

8. Then visualize the right vertical line of the ה while imagine that your faculty of speech receives Divine illumination.

9. Finally as you visualize the unattached foot of the ה, imagine that all your actions become tuned up and synchronized with the Divine will.

10. Now visualize the entire word שָּׂדֶה with the definite article the prefix הheh, as in הַשָּׂדֶה – hasadeh.
וְכֹל שִׂיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה טֶרֶם יִהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ וְכָל עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה טֶרֶם יִצְמָח
Every plant in the field was not yet in the earth, and every herb of the field had not yet sprouted forth.[15]

11. הַשָּׂדֶה Includes the sin ש and the dalet ד of Hashem’s name Shadai ש-ד-י, the two hehs ה add up to the final letter yud י (the numerical value of each heh is five adding up to the ten of the yud). Breath in as you visualize Sha שַ. Breath out as you visualize dai דַי Repeat this breathing ten times.

12. The name Shadai refers to G-d’s power to make His Divinity conscious and accessible to every one of His creatures, regardless of their spiritual state. Imagine G-d’s power entering into every part of your life and being.

13. Imagine yourself at work; allow Hashem’s power to enter the field of your work.

14. Imagine yourself in relationship to those close to you; allow Hashem’s power to enter the field of your relationships.

15. Imagine yourself deeply in thought; allow Hashem’s power to enter the field of your contemplation.

The Talmud explains how shacharit (morning prayer), mincha (afternoon prayer) and ma’ariv (evening prayer) originates from the avot (forefathers) – Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov.[16] Shacharit was established by Avraham, when he arose in the morning to view the destruction that Hashem had brought upon Sodom. “Avraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood (amad) before Hashem.”[17] We learn that the word “amad” refers to tefilah, because the words “va’yamod” and “v’yipalel” (standing and praying) are juxtaposed in another Torah verse.[18] Mincha originated with Yitzchak, when he went out “la’suach ba’sadeh towards the evening.”[19] Ma’ariv was instituted by Ya’acov, when he was fleeing from Esav. “Va’yifga ba’makom” – He lighted upon the place…”[20] – “pegiah” refers to tefilah.[21]

Rabbi Elly Krimsky explains that the three references to prayer by the avot correspond to three different motivations for prayer. Yitzchak’s prayer in the field corresponds to tefilah during ordinary day-to-day life – while working in the field (or in the office). The word sicha supports that Yitzchak’s tefilah represents day-to-day prayer as this word is often translated to mean everyday conversation.[22] Yitzchak, thus, represents the ability to be intensely focused on Hashem in the midst of the daily humdrum of life.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslau explains that the letter bet as a prefix, which usually means “in,” can also mean “with.” If so, we can understand that when Yitzchak went out to pray ba-sadeh, he was praying with the field! In other words, his prayer was so intense that nature itself felt compelled to join in.[23] 

[1] Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan Meditation and the Bible, Maine, Samuel Weiser Inc, p.101.
[2] Bereishit, 24:63.
[3] Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, France, (1040-1105), Bereishit 24:63.
[4] Tehillim 102:1.
[5] “No shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up…” (Bereishit 2:5).
[6] Rashbam, Rabbi Shemuel ben Meir, (Rashi’s grandson) France, (1083-1174), Bereishit 24:63.
[7] Based on Chizkuni, Rabbi Chezkiyahu ben Manoach, France, (thirteen century), Bereishit 24:63.
[8] This section is based on Rabbeinu Bachaya, Rabbi Bachaya ben Asher, Spain, (1250-1340) Bereishit 24:63.
[9] Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 26b.
[10] The continuation of our original verse in Bereishit 24:63.
[11] Kli Yakar, Rabbi Ephraim Shelomo ben Aharon of Luntshits, Poland, (1550-1619), Bereishit 24:63.
[12] Bereishit Rabah 58:2.
[13] Kli Yakar, Bereishit 24:63.
[14] Rabbi Ovadiah ben Ya’acov, Italy, (1470-1550), Bereishit 24:63.
[15] Bereishit 2:5.
[16] Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 26b.
[17] Bereishit 19:27.
[18] Tehillim 106:30.
[19] Bereishit 24:63.
[20] Bereishit 28:11.
[21] Midrash Agadah, Bereishit 46.
[22] See for example Tehillim 119:97.
[23] Likutei Moharan, Part 2, Sign 1.