Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Raising our Desires for Life

Rebbetzin with students at B'erot this Purim
The Purim story illustrates how everything is from Hashem. In spite of Haman’s desire to annihilate the Jewish people, he ironically brought us to the greatest Teshuva (repentance) and increased the light of Israel. Haman’s evil scheme eventually caused the Jewish to have “Light, happiness, joy and honor.”[1] 

Rabbi David Aaron, during a class he gave in Bat Ayin, explained how we are not in charge of our actions, only of our choices. Haman chose to kill the Jews, but Hashem did not allow his choice to be carried out into action. It is up to Hashem whether we will be able to execute our choices. However, it is up to us to choose the good – to choose life. Purim is, therefore, about refining our choices and desires. 

This week’s Parsha Meditation is about getting in touch with our desires and elevating them. This soul accounting is specifically suitable for the Holy Shabbat, in order that we avoid falling into depression by noticing how much we desire unholiness. Read on if you would like to practice purifying your desires from the desire for dead material things, to desire more spiritual “life” L’Chaim!

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Parasha Meditation Ki Tisa
Shemot 30:11-34:35  
Eradicating “Strange Service” from Within and Without

Parashat Ki Tisa describes the sin of the Golden Calf, which teaches that no one is completely immune to idol-worship (Literally “strange service”). According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Shneerson z”l, a version of modern idolatry is when a person is only partially involved in a Jewish lifestyle without embracing Judaism in a total way. Allowing a separation between ourselves and Judaism, may eventually cause actual idolatry, G*d forbid. Therefore, we need to constantly evaluate if our service is appropriate and complete, to prevent descending to the level of “strange service.” The spiritual ammunition against falling into “strange service” is the opening verse of our Torah portion: כִּי תִשָּׂא אֶת רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל /ki tisa et rosh b’nai Yisrael –“Raise the head of the Jewish people.”[2] This implies to be more involved in studying Torah, especially its inner dimensions. This is the best way to eradicate “strange service” both from within and without.[3]

Elevating the Evil Cycle
The Hebrew word for calf is עֵגֶל – egel. The root ע – ayin,ג  – gimel, ל – lamed also forms the Hebrew word עָגִיל agil, which means earring, from which the Golden Calf was made. This word is connected to the word for circle – עִגוּל which can either refer to an evil cycle or a positive spiral-like cycle, revolving around ascent toward G*dliness. A negative cycle is when a person follows the cycles of nature, without recognizing the Divine Providence in the world. This reflects the Golden Calf, made partially of gold from the women’s earrings, which the men had forcefully taken from them.[4] King David implores G*d to lead him in מַעְגְּלֵי צֶדֶק –”ma’aglei tzedek,”[5] – righteous circular ways.[6] From within the evil cycles of strange worship, there is a road to G*dliness. The construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), whose golden vessels were also made of the jewelry of the women,[7] was the rectification for the Golden Calf. When jewelry brings out the true grace of a righteous woman, it is holy, and reflects the holy Mishkan.[8]

Our Desires Indicate Who We Are
A woman’s desire for jewelry can either come from a low place of “Golden-Calf-desire” for the physical, or from a spiritual desire to reflect Hashem’s glory, beautify herself for her husband, and take pleasure in the holidays. We are what we desire. When we desire material things we are connected to the body. When we desire spiritual things we are connected to our soul. However, desire for physical things can sometimes emanate from our soul, when we desire the physical for spiritual reasons. For example, for some women, cleaning and decorating their home, is a spiritual worship of Hashem. Periodical self-assessment can help us get clarity of where we are holding, and spur us to consciously chose a more spiritual path. We can ask Hashem to help us rectify our desires, so that we will desire closeness to Him.

Raising our Heads on Shabbat
“When you raise the heads…”[9] the Hebrew word for raise –תִשָּׂא /tisa with the kollel[10] has the same numerical value as the Hebrew word שַׁבָּת/Shabbat. This alludes to the fact that Shabbat is the time suitable to raise the heads of the children of Israel. The word following “when you raise the heads of B’nai Yisrael” is לִפְקֻדֵיהֶם/lifkudeihem – according to their numbers. This word also indicates a lack as in “not one man among us is נִפְקַד/nifkad – missing.”[11] We learn from this that in order to become raised up we need to first recognize our lack, and faulty character-traits. By means of this self-awareness we can repent and return to an elevated state. However, the danger of contemplating on our faults is that we might fall into depression. Therefore, specifically on Shabbat which is from the World of Building, can we recognize our faults and repent from them without falling into depression. The word Shabbat is an acronym for שַׁבָּת בּוֹ תָּשׁוּב/Shabbat bo tashuv – in Shabbat you shall repent. The soul accounting we do on Shabbat will only lead us to repentance and closeness with Hashem rather than weakening us and making us feel distant. The continuation of our Torah verse “…that there be no plague among them,” teaches us that there is no need to be concerned about falling into depression “when you raise their head” on Shabbat. For then the contemplation and the soul accounting is from the World of Building which brings a Jew close to Hashem.[12]

Sit comfortable in your chair and close your eyes. Take several deep breaths and get in touch with yourself. Feel the outline of your body touching the chair you are sitting in.

1. Imagine a circle of light surrounding your head. Breathe into this circle of light several times.

2. Move your consciousness to your torso and imagine a golden circle surrounding it as you breathe into it.

3. Finally, connect with your pelvis and breathe slowly into it several times as you imagine a circle of light surrounding it.

4. Allow yourself to feel relaxed and centered. As you continue to breathe slowly, ask yourself, “What am I making into an idol? Which materialistic secular goals run my life?

5. Ask yourself “Who am I? I am my desires! What are my desires? Who I am? What do I desire? Life of Death? Do I desire to pray? Do I desire the spiritual tranquility of Shabbat, the mitzvah of welcoming guests? Or do I desire to go shopping, to see movies and read fashion magazines?” Please add to this list of questions to yourself.

6. Keep asking yourself even deeper questions: “What do I truly desire? Do I desire physical things, or do I desire spirituality and closeness to Hashem? Are my physical desires spiritual? Or are my spiritual desires physical, for the sake of my ego and self-aggrandizement?”

7. Access where you are at, and what kind of desires you have. Ask yourself: “How can I have more life in my life rather than choosing something that makes me feel dead and disconnected?”

8. In the stillness of yourself, imagine Hashem before you and ask, “Please Hashem, help me become more connected to my Neshama. I desire to desire spiritual things, but if my spiritual will is weak, oh Hashem please strengthen my spiritual will. Please help me detach more and more from the physical and dead, and become more and more connected to You and to true life!”

9. Now, with Hashem’s help, quietly resolve to choose life rather than death…the reality, not the fantasy.

We have the ability to refine our will, by getting in touch with and recognizing our material desires. Our purification emanate from the source of our impurity. They are both part of the same cycle. Therefore, the atonement for the Golden Calf is through the Red Heifer as Rashi explains, “This may be compared to the case of a handmaid’s child that defiled the king’s palace. They said: Let the mother come and wipe up the excrement. Similarly here: since they became defiled by a calf, let its mother (a cow) come and atone for the calf.[13] These two animals are photo negatives of one another. The difference between them is that the Golden Calf is dead, whereas the Red Heifer is very much alive and filled with blood used for sacrifices. It is “life” that makes the difference between ultimate sin and ultimate redemption. Let us detach from the desire for “dead things” and learn to appreciate that which is connected to the Source of life, L’Chaim!

[1] Megillat Esther 8:16.
[2] Shemot 30:12.
[3] Based on article by Rabbi Shaul Leiter (W:5760-25/KiTisa) for the ASCENT of SAFED website
[4] Rashi, Shemot 32:2.
[5] Tehillim 23:3.
[6] The Hebrew word מַעְגַל can also mean road or way.
[7] Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 44.
[8] Rav Yitzchak Ginsburg, Rectifying the Golden Calf with Balanced Leadership,
[9] Shemot 30:12.
[10] It is an accepted way of calculating the numerical value of a word by including an additional number corresponding to the word itself.
[11] Bamidbar 31:49.
[12] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Ki Tisa, P. 236.
[13] Rashi, Bamidbar 19:22.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Candles of Eternity

Rebbetzin with B'erot student Chana
 at her engagement party
Our weekly parasha focuses on the mitzvah to ignite the candles in the Tabernacle which the woman extends by lighting the Shabbat candles in her home. Just as the middle candle in the Menorah never burned out, so does our personal light burn brightly for all eternity. Each and every Jew has our own special light which is activated through performing a mitzvah. We can experience this light by strengthening our mindfulness through intentional visualization. 

Our Parasha Meditation helps us get in touch with our personal eternal candle by focusing on how to ignite ourselves and our environment. Through guided imagery we will visualize how every mitzvah that we perform ignite our eternal candle. 

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Tetzaveh- The Power of Visualization

Parasha Meditation Tetzaveh
Shemot 27:20-30:10
The Candles of Eternity
Parashat Tetzaveh opens with the instruction for lighting the eternal candelabrum:
 ספר שמות פרק כז:כ וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד
“You shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure olive oil beaten for lighting, to raise up the candle to burn eternally.”[1]

Malbim explains the unusual language: “וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה”/ v’ata tetzaveh –“You shall command” to imply something which must be done quickly, immediately and for all generations to come. Even when the Temple was destroyed and the candles were abolished, behold we continue to light them in the synagogues which are called a small sanctuary - מקדש מעט /mikdash me’at.[2]

Women’s Mitzvah
The word תְּצַוֶּה/tetzaveh has the exact same numerical value (גמטריה/gematria) as the words נשים צוה/ nashim tzivah –“He commanded the women.” Therefore, the Torah verse obligating the kindling of the eternal light in the sanctuary alludes to women’s responsibility to light the Shabbat candles in the home.[3] Although the mitzvah to light the Shabbat candles is from the Rabbis and not explicitly stated in the Torah, through this allusion the Torah empowers women with the ability of igniting the holiness of the Temple into our homes. The mitzvah of lighting the Shabbat candles pertains to women more than to men.[4] Even if the husband also wants to light Shabbat candles, the wife takes precedence.[5] The importance of the Shabbat candles is highlighted by the halachic fact that if one cannot afford both shabbat candles and wine for Kidush, Shabbat candles take precedence.[6]

An Allusion to the Three Temples
“…that they bring you pure olive oil beaten for lighting.”[7] The numerical value of the word “beaten” in Hebrew כָּתִית/katit is 830. This equals the accumulative years of the two first temples. The first temple stood for 410 years, the second temple for 420 years, together this adds up to 830. Scripture thus alludes to the fact that the menorah will be lit in the temples which will stand for כָּתִית years. [8] Whereas the two first temples will light for a limited period as it states כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר/katit l’meor – “beaten for lighting,” the third temple will remain forever, as the verse continues: לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד/l’ha’a lot ner tamid – “to raise up the candle to burn eternally” – Its light will never be extin­guished.[9]

Igniting Ourselves
The glorious Temple built by King Solomon had special windows from which the light would emanate to the world as it states, “For the house he made windows wide without, and narrow within.”[10] Whereas, the windows of regular palaces are wide within and narrow without, in order to cause light to enter into them, the windows of the temple were opposite in order to bring forth a great light inside out.[11] G*d created everything including the light. Therefore, He does not need anyone to light for Him. Likewise, the Talmud learns from our Torah verse that we are obligated to light the candles for our own sake, rather than for G*d’s sake, as it states, “…that they bring you pure olive oil…” Hashem commands “אֵלֶיךָ”/elecha – ‘for you’ but not ‘for me,’ for I do not need the light.”[12] By lighting the candelabrum we ignite and illuminate ourselves with Hashem’s eternal light.

The Candles of Shalom Bayit – Peace in the Home
The teaching from last week’s parasha: “Make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell within them”[13] – meaning within each of us, is specifically fulfilled through the lighting of the menorah, by which we cause the Shechina to dwell in our midst. The Shabbat candles that a woman lights likewise cause the Shechina to enter into our homes. This explains the importance of the mitzvah of lighting the Shabbat candles which precedes even the lighting of the Chanukah candles for the sake of Shalom Bayit – peace in the home.[14] We can now understand why the Shabbat candles bring peace in the home even today when we have electric light and don’t need these candles for physical light. Lighting the Shabbat candles causes the Divine indwelling Presence to dwell in the home between husband and wife, by igniting the י/yud of the אִיש/ish – man and the ה/heh of the אִישָה/isha – woman. These two letters comprise one of Hashem’s holy names through which peace in the home shines forth.

Eternal Witness
The word לְהַעֲלֹת/leha’a lot – to raise up is missing a vav to hint to the fact that the vav (6) candles are extinguished and rekindled, while only the middle candle lights perpetually.[15] This is also why it states, “to raise up the candle” in singular rather than “candles” in plural. Hashem intended that within each part of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) there would be a testimony that His Divine presence dwells among Israel. In the Holy of Holies the Ark gave faithful testimony that the Divine presence rested there. The Tablets contained within it could be read from both sides, with the mem and samech miraculously not falling out. In the Tent of Meeting Hashem’s light shone from the eternal middle candle. Everyone would look at it, and see the name of Hashem, dwelling within them.[16] This candle is similar to the Ark, since they both witness G-d’s presence. Two witnesses are required as it states “according to the testimony of two…”[17]

Spiritual Recharge
The candle, which symbolizes the words of Torah, is considered a guide to life, safeguarding us from stumbling. Whoever performs a mitzvah sustains his soul, and is considered as if he lit a candle before G-d as it states: אָדָם נֵר הַשֵם נִשְׁמַת/ner Hashem nishmat adam – A candle of G-d is the soul of man.[18] The benefit of the candle is that it purifies the soul. [19] Candles differ from other goods in this world, which becomes reduced when shared with others. From one candle you can kindle thousands of candles without diminishing the light of the original candle. In the same way, when we fulfill a mitzvah even if it seemingly comprises expense and effort, we do not get depleted but rather recharged with renewed spiritual energy.

Sit comfortable in your chair and close your eyes.

1. Take several deep breaths and imagine you are an unlit candle. Get in touch with the yearning to become lit.

2. Allow your mind travel back to search for mitzvot (Torah commandments) you performed. It could be visiting the sick, dancing vigorously at a wedding, rejoicing with the bride, keeping the dietary laws scrupulously, giving tzedaka (charity) etc.

3. Focus in on one of the mitzvoth that you especially performed with your entire heart.

4. Visualize how this mitzvah acts like a spark that ignites your wick, and imagine how you begin to glow with a bright orange light. Your flame grows stronger and your whole body becomes enlightened. Feel yourself radiating this warm light, as you slowly inhale and exhale.

5. Inhale as you visualize the word נֵר/ner – candle, exhale as you visualize the word תָּמִיד/tamid – eternal. G-d’s candle burns perpetually within your soul. Keep repeating the breathing, visualizing the word נֵר/ner on the in-breath, and the word תָּמִיד/tamid on the outbreath for eight times.[20]

6. Your light is like the brightness of wisdom driving away the darkness of ignorance. You are the bright radiant light. Feel yourself pulsating, expanding, your light shining forth further and further until it illuminates your entire house. Allow your inner flame to reach out even further until it fills your whole neighborhood. Your neighborhood is illuminated by your glowing light. Imagine your candle traveling even further out to your entire country and still further to encompass the whole universe.

7. You fill the entire world with your light, illuminating every space to break through any darkness and blockage within yourself and the world. Continue glowing with this orange light in all directions, eradicating darkness from within and without.

Why is the commandment to light the menorah placed before all the vessels of the Mishkan?
The kindling of the candelabrum is the only Temple service described in the book of Shemot. Besides this service, only the vessels of the Mishkan and their places are delineated here. The mitzvah to light the menorah precedes the rest of the worship of the Mishkan described in the book of Vayikra, because kindling the candles is the purpose of the entire Temple worship. Igniting the candelabrum symbolizes the elevation of the soul towards the Divine light by keeping the mitzvot of the Torah.[21] The soul of humanity is compared to light[22] the Torah is compared to light: “For a candle is a Mitzvah and the Torah is light.”[23] Israel will become the light of the world: “Nations will walk in your light.”[24] G*d is the light of the individual: “G*d is my light and my salvation,”[25] and He is the light of Israel: “Arise shine for your light is come.”[26]

[1] Shemot 27:20.
[2] Midrash Hagadol, Vayikra 6:3.
[3] Ba’al HaTurim, Shemot 27:20.
[4] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 263:3.
[5] Mishna Brura, Ibid.
[6] Shulchan Aruch, Ibid.
[7] Shemot 27:20.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Toldot Yitzchak, Shemot 27:20.
[10] I Kings 6:4.
[11] Vayikra Rabah 31:7.
[12] Ba’al HaTurim quoting Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 86b.
ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך" אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני אליך ולא לי לא לאורה אני צריך - תלמוד בבלי מסכת מנחות דף פו/ב
[13] Shemot 25:8.
[14] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 263:3.
[15] Ba’al Haturim, Shemot 27:20.
[16] Kli Yakar, ibid.
[17] Devarim 17:6, Babylonian Talmud, Sota 31:2.
[18] Mishlei 20:27.
[19] Shemot Rabah 36:3.
[20] Number eight symbolizes eternity, see Maharal, Ner Mitzvah, p. 23.
[21] Nechama Leibowitz on Shemot 27:20.
[22] See Mishlei 20:27 quoted above before footnote 10.
[23] Ibid. 6:23 כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה וְתוֹרָה אוֹר/ki ner mitzvah v’Torah ohr.
[24] Yesha’yahu 60:3 וְהָלְכוּ גוֹיִם לְאוֹרֵךְ/vehalchu goyim le’orech.
[25] Tehillim 27:1 הָשֵם אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי/Hashem ori v’yishi.
[26] Yesha’yahu 60:1 קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ/kumi ori ki va orech.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Mishkan: A Spiritual Healing Structure

Rebbetzin on Tour! Montreal Russian Synagogue
This week’s Parasha is about donating to the Mishkan – the vortex of holiness. This meditation is about making sanctuary in our hearts by Healing the Spiritual Scars of our Soul. The materials of gold silver and copper used in the Mikdash are channels for healing our pelvis, heart region and mind. Visualizing these materials in the appropriate regions of ourselves can bring about spiritual healing.

May the spiritual healing structure of the Temple be rebuild in our days, so the Shechina can dwell completely within all of our being!

Read Rebbetzin's Dvar Torah on "Adar: The Month of Transformation" 

Parasha Meditation Terumah
Shemot 25:1-27:19  
Donating Selflessly Brings Closeness to Hashem
This week’s parasha opens with Hashem’s request to donate the materials needed for the Mishkan (tabernacle) – a place set aside for meetings between Hashem and the Jewish people. Hashem tells Moshe, “Speak to the children of Israel that they take me an offering: of every man whose heart prompts him to give you shall take my offering.[1] It doesn’t say “bring me and offering” but rather “take me.” From here we learn that whoever donates for the sake of Hashem, actually gets to “take Hashem” – receives a greater closeness to Hashem.[2]  

Israel – The Sanctuary of G*d
“Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”[3] It didn’t state, “that I may dwell within it” because the Divine presence does not dwell in the sanctuary for the sake of the sanctuary, but for the sake of Israel. We are the sanctuary of G*d.[4] The mikdash (sanctuary) brings us so close to Hashem that all feel Him “within us.”

The Circuit that Channels the Light of the World
While one’s entire being enjoys the smell of spices, it is absorbed through a small part of the body. Likewise, Hashem is everywhere, but He communicates through the mikdash. Like electricity, G*d’s presence is everywhere, yet for us to hook up with it, we need to channel it. The same way that one must channel electricity into a circuit in order to produce light. The mikdash is the circuit which channels the Light of the world. Our discovering the Divine Presence in the mikdash verifies that Hashem dwells among us. Through the realization of G*d’s presence, we become the circuit which reveals Divinity in the world. By directing ourselves to the mishkan, we become the mishkan.[5]

Making a Sanctuary in our Heart
We know that all the mitzvot of the Torah are eternal, but how is it possible to fulfill the mitzvah of building the mikdash today? A person is like a mini-cosmos. Therefore, the command “make me a sanctuary” implies that we all are charged to perpetually make a sanctuary in our heart, in order to prepare a place for the Divine presence to dwell. When G*d dwells in the heart and soul of every one of us, the continuation of the verse: “that I may dwell among them” is fulfilled.[6]

Healing the Spiritual Scars of our Soul
It’s easy to say, let’s make a sanctuary for Hashem in our heart. To actually do it, we need to meditate and really focus on opening ourselves to let Hashem in. When we have fears, we unconsciously close the energy fields without allowing Hashem’s light into our heart. We have lived for thousands of years with three primal fears. They come from the collective unconscious. They are both personal and collective. Each of the exiles by which the Jewish people have been traumatized, have left a different spiritual scar in our souls. The sanctuary is to be constructed in a prophetic Divine fashion to undo and overcome all of our archetypal fears. Each of the three parts of the mishkan: The courtyard, the Tent of Meeting, and the Holy of Holiest exuded the healing power to overcome each of the three primal fears.

The Healing Metals of the Tabernacle
Hashem tells Moshe “This is the offering which you shall take from them; gold, silver and copper.”[7] These three materials are channels for Hashem’s light to overcome our fears. The Holy Ark placed in the holy of holiest was covered with gold, and its cover with the cherubs was made of pure gold.[8] This gold has channels the power to heal the lowest part of our body, connected with the fear of being raped – of not being in control. The sockets of the tent of meeting were made of silver.[9] This silver channels the power to heal the middle part of our body – the heart area, connected with the fear of death – of being overwhelmed. The sockets of the courtyard were made from copper.[10] This copper channels the power to heal our upper part – the head, connected with the fear of losing our mind – of not being good enough. The mishkan was thus a spiritual healing structure. When it was erected Hashem’s light shining through the channels of gold, silver and copper respectively would enter our entire being – “dwell within you” – and heal us.

Sit comfortable in your chair, close your eyes. Take several deep breaths and let go of anything you are may be holding on to. Try to connect with the light of Hashem which always comes down from Above.

1. Visualize the light entering from your Keter (crown). Our body is continually filled with Hashem’s light and love even when we don’t see or feel it.

2. Imagine Hashem’s light in the shade of copper surrounding and filling you head. Imagine your entire head, neck and throat glowing with the beautiful light of copper.

3. Now this light is cascading down your shoulders becoming pure and silvery as it fills your torso, chest and lungs. Imagine it shimmering into your heart exuding its silvery glow with every beat.

4. Allow the light to emanate from your heart down to your stomach, and your entire pelvis as it turns to gold.

5. Breathe the golden light into your small intestines, your colon, ovaries, tubes, womb, and private place. Allow the golden light to enter your liver in the left side under your rib-cage, and your spleen on the right. Cleanse your bean-shaped kidneys in the back with this shimmering golden light. Let the light enter your thighs, knees, calves and feet, and imagine your entire self completely enlightened.

6. Visualize how your entire being is exuding light outwardly. Your pelvis/lower part is shining gold; your torso and middle part pure silver, and from your throat upwards including your entire head with your mouth, nose, eyes and ears is shimmering copper with a copper crown surrounding your head.

7. If you are able to, imagine a golden triangle its middle point from your inner fountain with a line to the right thigh and another to your left thigh.

8. Imagine Hashem’s light filling this golden triangle.

9. Now imagine another triangle perpendicular to the first to form the shape of a Magen David (Star of David). Its middle point is below your bellybutton with a line to your right and left thigh.

10. Breathe into this Magen David and imagine Hashem’s light protecting you from any fears in your pelvis. If you are unable to imagine the Magen David in this particular way, just imagine a golden Magen David any place on your pelvis.

11. Move your mind’s eye to your heart area. Imagine it as the middle point of a new triangle of silver with a line to both your right and left shoulder-bone. Imagine Hashem’s light filling this silver triangle.

12. Now imagine another triangle perpendicular to the first to form the shape of a Magen David. Its middle point is below the throat with a line to your right and left shoulder-bone.

13. Breathe into this Magen David and imagine Hashem’s light protecting you from any fears in your torso. Again, if this exercise is hard, just imagine any size silver Magen David in your heart region. It could be imagining wearing a silver Magen David necklace.

14. Now move your mind’s eye to our head. Imagine the middle point of a new triangle of copper on top of your head in the center. It has a line to both your right and left temple. Imagine Hashem’s light filling this copper triangle.

15. Now imagine another triangle perpendicular to the first to form the shape of a Magen David. Its middle point is above the throat with a line to your right and left temple.

16. Breathe into this Magen David and imagine Hashem’s light protecting you from any fears in your head region.

17. In the middle of this Magen David imagine Hashem’s four lettered name flashing in your mind’s eye, sending love and compassion. If this is difficult to imagine, you may imagine any kind of copper Magen David on your head, face, or neck.

18. Now try to visualize all the three Magen Davids simultaneously flashing to the beat of your heart and feel how your entire being is being illuminated by Hashem’s life-giving protective light.

19. Become aware of the presence of the person sitting at your right. Where does she need protection most? Imagine sending Hashem’s light and love in the shape of one of your Magen Davids to her. Use your intuition to choose whether to send her gold, silver or copper.

20. Keep sending her Hashem’s light exuding from your chosen Star of David.

21. Now focus your attention to the person at your left. Open yourself to receive the Magen David she is sending you. Allow it to enter the part of you which needs its protective glow the most. Keep receiving until you feel filled. After a few minutes, take a few deep breaths; release your arms and legs before opening your eyes.

You can read more about the Emunahealing system of healing on my blog. Click here.

[1] Shemot 25:1-2.
[2] Degel Machane Efraim, Parashat Teruma.
[3] Shemot 25:8.
[4] Tzeida Le’ derech, Parashat Teruma.
[5] Ohr Rashaz, Parashat Teruma.
[6] Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef, Parashat Teruma.
[7] Shemot 25:3.
[8] Shemot 25:11-22.
[9] Shemot 26:18-32.
[10] Shemot 27:11-19.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Transforming Pain to Become a Source of Joy

Dancing in Toronto - Spiritual Insights into Adar class

This week’s parasha meditation is about infusing our mundane daily day living with both awe and love of G*d. It is also about how to turn the brickwork of our pain and suffering into the most brilliant shiny sapphires – lucid like the heavens. Only Hashem knows the secret of how to make the brickwork of our enslavement beautiful. He can transform – that very brick – that very point of pain – the source of the pain itself, to become a source of joy and light. He grants us joy to keep going, to live more fully. He endows us with light to see more clearly – to see the sparks hidden in the lowest places – to see how G*d is really in our lives – in every aspect of it. He teaches us to see that we needed to go through all the painful places, that they were truly, in a hidden way, sources of light and joy in our lives. 

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

Read Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Mishpatim - "Overcoming Negative Patterns and Addiction"

Parasha Meditation Mishpatim
Shemot 21:1-24:18

Transforming the Brick of Pain to Become a Source of Joy and Delight
Gazing at G*d through Eating and Drinking
This week’s parasha contains one of the strangest “visions” in the Torah. When Moshe, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, together with the seventy elders of Israel ascended the mountain they saw an amazing vision of G*d.
וַיִּרְאוּ אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם לָטֹהַר
“They saw the G*d of Israel; and under His feet was like sapphire brick-work and the likeness of shamayim (the heavens) for clearness…”[1]

The following verse describes how G*d “did not lay his hand on the Nobles of Israel, although they beheld G*d, while eating and drinking.”[2] These two Torah verses, juxtaposes the seemingly mundane (bricks, eating and drinking) with a description of “seeing” Hashem. Although even the “mundane” must be sanctified, and as I’m teaching during my current North America tour – eating and drinking can be a deep way of connecting to Hashem. Yet, Rashi explains, “They [Nadav, Avihu and the Elders] deserved that G*d should stretch forth His hand against them, because they gazed at G*d intimately as [though their association with Him was] a matter of eating and drinking.”[3]

Approaching Hashem through Pain and Weakness
Let us try to understand the vision of these beautiful “sapphire bricks” in Hashem’s presence, “below His feet.” According to Rashi the vision of a serene image of Hashem becomes a stark reminder of the harshest realities of Jewish suffering in the world. He explains that Hashem had placed the bricks before Him during the slavery in Mitzrayim (Egypt), to remember the sufferings of Israel.[4] Although it is comforting to know that G*d feels our pain, there is no escaping the reality of suffering in this vision. The vision reminds us that we do not connect to Hashem by losing touch with reality – even the most painful reality, of this world. Rather those very experiences are themselves “before Him,” and we can approach G*d through our pain and weaknesses.

The Beauty of the Brickwork of Suffering
Yet, this brickwork being a stark reminder of Mitzrayim is only half the story. The brickwork itself is shining and clear like the heavens! Why is this brick so beautiful? Rashi explains that when the Jews were redeemed from Egypt, there was joy and light before Him.[5] This very brickwork, which had been dark, coarse and a source of suffering and enslavement, itself, began to shine a brilliant light – to radiate joy. This is so important. This is salvation.[6]

Infusing Every Mitzvah with Awe and Love of G*d
Contrary to Rashi’s interpretation, Netivat Shalom notes that “They saw the G*d of Israel” is actually a praise for the Nobles of Israel.[7] After the amazing revelation at Sinai, when all the Seven Heavens were opened, everyone experienced how there is none but Hashem – אֵין עוֹד מִלְּבַדּוֹ/“Ein Od Milvado.”[8] After such a holy revelation how could they lower themselves to be involved with matters of this world such as eating and drinking? The answer is that it is possible to return to the elevated state of receiving the Torah at Sinai through infusing every mitzvah, and Torah-learning in this lower world with both awe and love of G*d.

In Praise of the Nobles of Israel
The Nobles of Israel understood that even when we are involved with the pleasures of this world, we must permeate them with awe and love of G*d. Therefore, it states “They beheld G*d, while eating and drinking.”[9] The word for G*d used in this verse הָאֱלֹהִים/haElokim is a name associated with judgment and awe. The word וַיֶּחֱזוּ/Vayechezu – “they beheld” alludes to love of G*d as we sing in the Yedid Nefesh Shabbat hymn:
הָדוּר נָאֶה זִיו הָעוֹלָם. נַפְשִׁי חוֹלַת אַהֲבָתֶךָ. אָנָא אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ. בְּהַרְאוֹת לָהּ נוֹעַם זִיוֶךָ
Hadur na’eh ziv haOlam. Nafshi Cholat Ahavateicha. Ana ke-l na, refa na la, beharot la noam zivecha.
– Majestic, Beautiful, Radiance of the universe – my soul is sick for Your love. Please, O G*d, heal her now by showing her the pleasantness of Your radiance. 

The Nobles of Israel teach us to integrate being preoccupied in the matters of the physical world represented by “eating and drinking” with awe and love of G*d as is learned from the phrase “They beheld G*d…” Therefore the meaning of “[G*d] did not lay his hand on the Nobles of Israel”[10] is that the impure extraneous forces did not have power over the Nobles of Israel, because “They beheld G*d”[11] – through awe and love.

Internalizing Hashem’s Presence before Us
Awe of G*d must always precede love, as it states; “The beginning of wisdom is awe.”[12] Therefore, the Rama, opens his first statement of Shulchan Aruch with how we can awaken awe of G*d – the beginning of everything in this world, and the beginning of all the matters of the Shulchan Aruch, by stating, “I have set Hashem before me always.”[13] – A person must always put in his heart that the great King Hashem stands before him and sees his deeds. This will immediately bring him awe of G*d.[14] Netivat Shalom notes that it didn’t state that a person must put this in his mind but rather in his heart. It is not enough to understand that Hashem stands before us, we furthermore need to bring this knowledge deeply into our heart, in order to immediately receive awe of G*d.[15]

Sit comfortable with your back straight and close your eyes. Take several deep breaths and clear your mind.

1. Do an internal body-scan and get in touch with any pain or discomfort you may hold in any part of your body. As you continue breathing slowly, get in touch with this discomfort and try to sense the root of your pain. Perhaps a headache could be caused by stress, a stomach pain by not feeling appreciated etc.

2. Breathe deeply while you slowly reciteשִׁוִּיתִי הָשֵם לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד /Shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid – “I have set Hashem always before me.”[16] Inhale שִׁוִּיתִי/Shiviti exhale הָשֵם/Hashem. Inhale לְנֶגְדִּי/l’negdi exhale תָמִיד/tamid. Repeat this sequence four additional times.

3. Imagine Hashem the King of Kings standing before you, seeing everything you do and feel. Visualize His greatness before you, knowing you inside and out. Inhale deeply and allow your heart to get filled with the knowledge that there is a law and there is a Lawgiver. Exhale, while focusing on your heart energy center imagining Hashem standing before you, feeling His presence deeply in your heart.

4. Now before turning to Hashem for help, realize that you are in pain, and/or you experience a lack – an emptiness inside.

5. Recognize that you cannot save yourself from this place. No slave ever escaped Egypt, nor redeemed himself. Get in touch with your smallness and your helplessness!

6. Allow yourself to feel how Hashem’s presence is with you within your pain. Keep breathing as you open yourself to feel how even and especially within your deepest pain, Hashem’s light is right there.

7. Now ask Hashem to remove your pain and its deepest root. Imagine your hurt being uprooted like a tree, as Hashem’s light fills it with His glorious presence, and the discomfort gets lifted away.

8. Now get in touch with your feelings in the place of your discomfort. Do you feel any lighter, a little relieved? In case you still feel pain, repeat visualizing Hashem’s light inside of your pain, removing it – uprooting it. It may take repeated tries several times, as our pain may contain multiple layers.

9. Now imagine the shining brilliant brickwork of sapphire, with sparkling blue colors lucid like the heavens in purity on a bright clear day. Try to hold this vision for five slow breaths or more.

10. Get in touch with the joy of the brilliant sapphire imagery. Allow this joy to penetrate your entire being. Delight in the beauty that you behold. It is the beauty of bringing Hashem into every aspect of your life. Allow yourself to be filled completely with love of Hashem and desire to bask in His light.

When you are ready, slowly tap your feet on the ground and open your eyes.

The sapphire brickwork was made from Israel’s suffering. When we try to save ourselves, the best we can do is to make the brick go away – by forgetting, by filling in the emptiness with something fake. In the end, the awareness comes back, and we can choose again whether to forget or try to open up to Hashem, and trust that He can save us in the deepest way. The bricks of Egypt, the place of tumah – (impurity), become the building material for the Beit HaMikdash – (Temple), the place of joy. The brick becomes “like Shamayim (heaven) for Tohar.” According to Rashi, “Tohar means barur (clarified) and lucid.” Clarification is a slow process, the struggle of a life’s journey. Yet this is the only way to find the joy that is not merely in spite of tears, but because of them. May Hashem reveal to us the joy within all of our tears soon in our days!

[1] Shemot 24:10.
[2] Ibid. 24:11.
[3] Rashi ad. loc.
[4] Ibid. 24:10.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Adapted from “A Vision of G-d’s Bricks” (5759) by David H. from Yeshivat Bat Ayin.
[7] Based on Unkelos’s translation of Shemot 24:11.
[8] Devarim 4:36.
[9] Shemot 24:11.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Tehillim 11:10.
[13] Tehillim 16:8.
[14] Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Cracow 1520-1572), Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 1:1.
[15] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Mishpatim, p. 187.
[16] Tehillim 16:8.