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.

1 comment:

  1. I am always amazed at your teachings, so full of light. Hashem should continue to bless you in all that you do.