Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Why Should We Pray for the Shechina Within Our Personal Pain?


Parashat B’ha’alotcha
Why Should We Pray for the Shechina Within Our Personal Pain?  

What is so Special about the Shortest Prayer in the Torah?
I have always appreciated the short and the small. Being a big girl among skinny sisters and being quite lengthy in formulating myself may have contributed to this penchant for the petite and the condensed. I value small pocket-size books and brief but intense prayers. Time is short so repetitive long Tehillim recitals are not my cup of tea. Yet, I revel in reciting the super short Tehillim 100 for gratitude, and while I struggle with mussaf prayer, my heart opens swiftly in the last intense neilah prayer on Yom Kippur. In Parashat B’ha’alotcha we find the shortest prayer in the entire Torah. When Moshe saw that Miriam had turned white as snow from the spiritual skin disease of tzara’at (Bamidbar 12:10), he entreated Hashem for her healing in a succinct prayer of only five short words: ‘Please, G-d, heal her, please.’ (Bamidbar 12:13). Why did Moshe not pray at length? Rashi explains that he composed such a short prayer on behalf of his sister, specifically because Miriam was his sister, and as the leader of the Children of Israel, he didn’t want to show favoritism toward his own family. So that the Israelites should not say, “His sister is in distress, for her he prays at length, but for our sake, he does not pray at length.” As a result, Moshe kept it short (Rashi, Bamidbar 12:13). We learn from here that even an abbreviated prayer is considered prayer (The Vilna Gaon, Kol Eliyahu, Bamidbar 23:23). Often short prayers are more intense as in the case of Moshe’s prayer. The word וַיִּצְעַק/vayitzak – ‘he cried out’ preceding Moshe’s succinct prayer indicates his raw emotion and great pain through which Moshe cries out to G-d in prayer. (Ibn Ezra, Bamidbar 12:13). From Moshe’s imploring cry we learn that his prayer was not only in his heart, but it was also expressed outwardly in keeping with the Talmudic ruling learned from the prophetess Chana: When one prays, s/he must move the lips and enunciate the words of the prayer (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 31a). Articulating the words of our prayer enables our words to land in true reality, bringing our prayer down from the ethereal, conceptual realm into concrete existence. Moshe, who suffered from speech impairment (Shemot 4:10), now calls out with clear, concise, and articulate words of prayer – Please G-d, please heal her!

Guidelines for Personal Prayer

ספר במדבר פרק יב פסוק יג וַיִּצְעַק משֶׁה אֶל הָשֵׁם לֵאמֹר אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ:
“Moshe cried out to Hashem, saying, ‘Please, G-d, heal her, please’” (Bamidbar 12:13).

Commentaries wonder why the word נָא/na appears twice in Moshe’s short prayer. It seems to me that since this word means both please and now, Moshe used the word נָא/na twice to indicate urgency, praying “Please, G-d, heal her, now!’” Five words - so clear on one hand; yet, on another, words that over the centuries have inspired numerous commentaries, compositions, and meditative chants. The Hebrew word נָא/na – “please” takes up two of our five words. Please! It’s all we can ask. Like Moshe, we pray to hold on to life, to be able to fulfill our goals to the end. Please G-d, please, is all that we can say. Alternatively, Moshe prays: “My finest and most glorious G-d, please heal her!” Here the first נָא/na denotes praise, whereas the second נָא/na indicates beseeching. Moshe’s prayer teaches us correct prayer manners. Whenever we want to make a request, we must begin with some words of praise before making our entreaty (Ha’Ketav V’Hakabalah, Bereishit 40:13).

Praying for the Pain of the Shechina

Rebbe Nachman explains that the double נָא/na indicates that Moshe requested of Hashem, as it were, to pray and request from Himself to heal Miriam. Moshe was addressing Hashem saying, “Please [pray to Yourself] G-d, please request [of Yourself] to heal her (Likutei Moharan, Mahadura Kama 105). It is a well-known Chassidic concept that we must always attempt to pray not only for our own troubles but to fill the lack of the Shechina (Divine Feminine Presence). Whenever we experience any lack in our lives, the root of that very lack exists on the spiritual level in the Shechina herself. When we pray for rectifying the blemish above, it follows that this rectification will also be drawn down to our own reality. All the great rabbis who accomplished great miraculous healings through their prayers mastered this kind of prayer on behalf of the Shechina. Yet it is not always possible even for the holiest person to remain on that level. At times, our personal pain and black bitterness becomes so overpowering that we are only able to pray for our own suffering while it’s impossible for us to feel the pain of the Shechina, being so wrapped up in our own pain. Although it is easier for our prayers to be answered, when we pray for the Above, Hashem has compassion for us. Even if we try to pray for the Shechina, saying, “Master of the Universe, my pain is so excruciatingly great, yet I still feel in my heart pain for the Above, and pray for both,” Hashem knows our heart when our intentions are only for our own benefit. A true tzaddik doesn’t trust in himself that he is able to sincerely pray for the pain of the Shechina. Therefore, Moshe used the word נָא/na – “please” twice in his prayer. The first “please” refers to Moshe’s request to heal his prayer in its root Above in the channels of the Shechina, whereas the second “please” was for the personal pain Moshe felt for his sister, Miriam the prophetess. Thus, when uttering the second “please” Moshe prayed: “Please draw down a complete recovery for her (Heichal HaBeracha, Parashat B’ha’alotcha).   

Spiritual Healing – The Root of All Healing
Miriam was stricken with tzara’at because she compared herself to Moshe without giving him the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, she didn’t realize that Moshe was on a completely different level than all other prophets including herself. Just as in the case of Miriam, her illness was a result of her sin, so all our ailments too have a spiritual root. In EmunaHealing we ask Hashem to reveal the spiritual and/or emotional roots of the suffering of the person who turns to us for healing. “By realizing how we have distanced ourselves from Hashem, we can become close to Him. With the awareness of our health and success in life is dependent on rectifying the underlying roots, we can facilitate people to heal themselves. Before committing a sin, we are called the children of the living G-d. Yet, through wrongdoing, we may darken the great light of the Divine spark within us. We can then pray, “Please G-d heal her now” intending to remove the block covering our inner point of Divine light. This is the meaning of the prayer to Hashem “Please heal us for Your own sake!” Hashem, so to speak, heals Himself – that is the Divine spark from Above which is embedded and rooted inside the Jewish soul, as it states, “For My sake, for My sake, I will do…” (Yesha’yahu 48:11). Thus, we pay, “Heal me, O Hashem, and I shall be healed…” (Yirmiyahu 17:14). There are two kinds of healing – healing of body and soul. When my soul is healed, physical healing follows. Therefore, King David prays, “My flesh and my heart yearn; G-d is the rock of my heart and my portion forever” (Tehillim 73:26). My prayer request is eternally on behalf of the rock of my heart and the divine portion that Hashem breathed within me. The matter of healing the soul is to facilitate the soul to return and repent from the sin through which it distanced itself from the divine light. The main healing and teshuva are through surrendering and contemplating how we are null and void without the Divine vitality that Hashem imparts within us. With this awareness, we will always pray that Hashem heals His part within us, which will lead to our complete recovery on all levels (Yismach Yisrael, Parashat Metzora).

Kosher Mantra Meditation
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan illuminates us regarding the numerous benefits of kosher mantra meditations, referring to the recital of a certain word or sentence over and over. Although biblical references to mantra meditation are ambiguous and not clearly stated, the Hebrew word הָגַה/hagah denotes a kind of meditation in which a word or sound is repeated over and over, like in the cooing of a dove or the growling of a lion (Radak, David Kimchi). Among the benefits of mantra meditation, it is an excellent relaxation method. When repeating a mantra over and over, the mind becomes habituated to it. Eventually, we can recite it without the words registering in the conscious mind, thus erasing all thoughts from the mind while reciting the mantra. It is therefore a highly effective means of clearing all thoughts from the mind. In later Kabbalistic schools, such as in sixteenth-century Safed biblical verses or selections from the Talmud or Zohar were used as mantras. Besides bringing us into a higher state of consciousness, the purpose of this technique was to provide us with deeper insight into the verse itself. As we repeat the verse, it eventually appears as if the verse itself were telling us its meaning. Rather than studying or analyzing the verse, we would then be communing with it, by experiencing its spiritual essence. The Arizal describes this experience by saying that the Zohar “spoke to him.” Rabbi Nachman said that if a person does not know what to say, he should simply repeat the phrase Ribbono shel Olam, (Master of the Universe). From the description of the technique, it seems obvious that Rabbi Nachman was prescribing the use of this phrase as a mantra to bring a person into a higher state of consciousness. A slight, very slow swaying, perhaps a half inch in each direction, helps ease tension during the initial meditative stages. After the meditation is over, remain in place for approximately five minutes, allowing the mind to absorb the effects of the meditation (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Jewish Meditation pp. 54-64).

EmunaHealing Exercise for Healing our Pain Through Kosher Mantra Meditation
1. Close your eyes. Allow your body to relax in a comfortable position. It's good to dedicate a certain space for your personal spiritual healing exercises and meditations. When you enter that space, your whole being will automatically be prepared to enter a meditative state. Take several deep breaths in and out of your nostrils, while becoming mindful of the rising and falling of your chest.
2. Moshe’s mini prayer for Miriam is powerful for all of us, to engender healing on all levels. Visualize within your mind the five words of this prayer אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ/el na refa na la – please G-d heal her please!” Let us combine this prayer with our breath. Thinking or saying softly “El nah” on the in-breath and “refah nah lah” on the out-breath. This sort of breath prayer can become almost automatic, so that “with every breath” the prayers become a part of us. Repeat this prayer/breath sequence four additional times.
3. Imagine the first part of Moshe’s prayer turned into your own, אֵל נָא /el na praising Hashem, asking permission from the Most High Master of the Universe to beseech His grace prior to making your request.
4. Reciting the words of Moshe’s prayer can become spiritually healing for us all. It is a meditation for the healing of the Divine Feminine within all of us, regardless of gender. Take a few moments to set an intention. Something that you are ready to plead for with all your heart. Get in touch with your personal pain. What is the most pressing issue you are dealing with at this very moment?  It could be a spiritual inadequacy such as a lack of Emunah (faith), an interpersonal issue, or an actual physical ailment or pain.
5. Tune into the issue for which you seek healing. Now recite or sing אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ/el na refa  na la while having in mind your most pressing issue or pain. Repeat the five-word prayer while envisioning the spiritual or emotional root of the issue or pain you are dealing with. Perhaps you need to work on a negative character trait like anger, arrogance, or jealousy to heal the pain you experience. Perhaps your healing will come when you strengthen your observance of certain mitzvot between you and Hashem like lighting the Shabbat candles in time, preparing your kosher food more mindfully, or taking additional time for prayer and meditation. It may be interpersonal issues that you need to repair to eliminate the painful issues that you are facing. Are you honoring your parents properly? Are you giving others the benefit of the doubt? Are you careful to speak only positive, caring, constructive words?
6. Imagine that the words of our prayer infuse your pressing issue or pain like arrows of healing light hitting the target that needs healing. Repeat the words of the prayer over and over again and again while letting yourself feel how this prayer’s healing laser beam light gradually dissolves the pressing issue or pain. Little by little the pain lessens, and you begin to feel relief.
7. Now in the midst of praying for your personal pain, can you envision how the root of your pain, or all of the pain in the entire universe is Above. Just as the mother’s heart and belly button is aching when her baby is crying, so does it hurt our Divine Mother – the Shechina – when we are in pain, when we are out of line, going astray off the mark. Now recite אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ/el na refa na la on behalf of the Shechina – the feminine Indwelling Presence – to soothe the pain she experiences when we are out of tune with our Divine spark within. Repeat this prayer four additional times.
8. Now, envision how the repair of the pain of the Shechina, as it were, has ripple effects within our reality. Visualize a cosmic umbilical cord bringing spiritual sustenance and healing from the Shechina to you and your pain right now. Allow yourself to receive all the waves of healing flowing into you as you keep repeating אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ/el na refa na la.

Listen to Rebbetzin Chana Brachas niggun (melody) for el na refa na la: (women only)

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Spiritual Healing Power of the Kohanim Blessings


Parashat Naso
The Spiritual Healing Power of the Kohanim Blessings 

May Mothers Bless Their Children with the Blessing of the Kohanim?
I’ve always been drawn to the Kohanim blessings. Whenever I come to the synagogue, I make a point of staying for Birkat HaKohanim. The Kohanim blessings – also known as Nesi’at Kapayim, the “lifting of the hands” – is a blessing that has been recited by the Kohanim since biblical times. It emanates from Aharon, the first Kohen Gadol, who is known for his love of people, and for making shalom and pursuing shalom (Pirkei Avot 1:12). Aharon bequeathed his descendants with the ability to channel divine blessings to Israel through the exquisite G-d- given words of blessings mentioned in Parashat Naso. Birkat HaKohanim always leaves me feeling comforted and spiritually uplifted. During the High Holidays, it is recited with a special beautiful, melodious chant that gives us time to pray for the amelioration of any disturbing dreams we may have experienced, as written in the Machzor (High Holiday prayerbook). Every Friday night we traditionally bless our children to be like Efraim and Menashe, or for daughters to be like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah, followed by the words of the Kohanim Blessing. With our oldest son, I wasn’t aware that mothers may bless their children Friday night as well. Yet when my younger son was born I learned that mothers no less than fathers  may bless their children Friday night as it states, “The custom of all Israel to bless their sons and daughters every Shabbat and Yom Tov is because occasionally during the week the father and mother may have chastised and cursed their children due to having been pained by them, and therefore now in a time of joy they nullify these curses through the blessings, and also the evil Angel answers Amen.” (Siddur Otzer Hatefilot, Aravit L’Shabbat). Likewise, according to Arizal, “A mother may bless her children Friday night, and this is the custom. According to the words of the Arizal, the main benefit of the Friday night blessing is specifically from the mother” (Rav Ovadia Yosef, Halacha Yomit). I also learned from the Arizal that he used to kiss his mother’s hand when returning from the Synagogue Friday night and that this is a good custom (Pri Etz Chaim, Sha’ar Shabbat 14; Machberet Hakodesh, Sha’ar Shabbat). It has become our minhag every Friday night that my son kisses my hand, and then I bless him with Birkat Kohanim. This bestowal of blessing is a sweet moment – a highlight of my week.

Placing the Hands Above the Head of the Person Receiving Blessings
Although there is some discussion in the Talmud and commentaries regarding whether a non-Kohen may recite the Kohanim blessing, and whether it is permissible to raise the hands during the blessing, there is consensus that it is permitted as long as it’s not in the Temple or Synagogue and the recital is without the intention to fulfill the mitzvah of blessing the Jewish nation. When we recite the words of the Kohanim blessing merely as a personal blessing of a friend then there is no prohibition whatsoever (Rav Ovadia Yosef, Halacha Yomit). Furthermore, the 18th Century Sefer Yosef Ometz states that a two-handed blessing is superior to a one-handed blessing for kabbalistic reasons. So, yes, I place both my hands above the head of my son and my granddaughters (whenever they come for Shabbat) Friday night as I bless them.

Ten Blessings for Body and Soul
According to Jewish numerology every letter has an outer and inner numerical value. The outer revealed value is the value of the letter itself. Its inner concealed value is its filling, when you spell out the letter without counting the value of the letter itself. The Kli Yakar notes that each of the three Kohanim blessings begins with the letter יוּד/yud:

ספר במדבר פרק ו פסוק כד יְבָרֶכְךָ הָשֵׁם וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ: כה) יָאֵר הָשֵׁם פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ: כו) יִשָּׂא הָשֵׁם פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם: כז) וְשָׂמוּ אֶת שְׁמִי עַל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַאֲנִי אֲבָרֲכֵם:
“May Hashem bless you and watch over you! May Hashem shine His face upon you and bestow grace on you! May Hashem lift His face upon you and grant you peace! They shall place my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them” (Bamidbar 6:24-27).

The revealed numerical value of the letter י/yud is 10. When you spell out the letter yud ד י-ו-  yud/vav/dalet its inner concealed filling וּ-ד/vav dalet also adds up to 10 (6+4). The yud’s double numerical value of ten teaches us that each of the Kohanim blessings applies to both the physical and the spiritual realm. In Hebrew, the word for hand יָד/yad derives from the same root as the letter יוּד/yud. Perhaps this explains why it’s preferable to bless our children with both hands to impart blessings for both body and soul. These blessings correspond to the ten physical blessings that the parents contribute to the fetus and the ten spiritual blessings that Hashem imparts. The father emits the five white parts: bones, sinews, nails, brain, and the white of the eye. The mother emits the red parts: skin, flesh, blood, hair, and the black of the eye. Hashem imparts the ten spiritual parts: spirit, soul, countenance, eyesight, the hearing of the ear, the speech of the mouth, the walking of the legs, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom (Babylonian Talmud, Niddah 31a). All these twenty parts are blessed when the Kohen lifts his ten fingers. From each finger emanates the blessing for the physically revealed realm as well as the spiritually concealed features. The three yuds in the Kohanim blessing add up to the numerical value of 60 (including its revealed and concealed gematria). This corresponds to the sixty letters that make up the entire Birkat Kohanim (Kli Yakar, Bamidbar 6:24).

The Evolving Relationship Between Us and Hashem and Us and Our Children
Kli Yakar continues to explain that the three sentences of Birkat Kohanim correspond to three stages of development of Israel 1. Daughter 2. Sister 3. Mother. These three stages may also be applied to parenthood. In the first line of the Kohanim blessing, we are below, and Hashem is the Father bestowing blessings and guarding us from Above. This corresponds to the level of “daughter.” In this lowest level, the children of Israel are compared to children completely dependent on their parents.  Rising to become “Sister” denotes the equality of being face-to-face. This corresponds to “May Hashem shine His face upon you…” The Jewish people have now risen to a more independent adult level.  Ultimately evolving to become Mother, we are, as it were, elevated to a superior position, corresponding to “May Hashem lift up His face upon you” so to speak. We are still awaiting reaching this highest stage. When reciting the first verse of the Kohanim blessing, I envision my son when he was little and needed my care and protection. I lift my son’s head to face me, when reciting the second verse, as he is now an adult, and we are in a way at eye level. I must hold back all my advice and “telling what to do” and just relate to my son face-to-face as somewhat of an equal. Just as Hashem shines His face at you, as it were, from the same level as you. The third and last part of Birkat Kohanim “May Hashem lift up His face to you and grant you peace,” indicates G-d’s looking up to us, as an elder parent looks up to an adult child, with approving respect. While reciting this verse I focus my hopes on how my son will care for me as I become elderly, when we parents become more dependent on our children. Yet, at this stage, once we will slow down, we may also find more peace to impart to our children (Based on an article by Rabbi Noah Arnow).

EmunaHealing Exercise for Elevating the Energy of a Space
1. Find a comfortable place to settle yourself. Inhale deeply filling your lungs with fresh air and exhale through your mouth making a sizzling sound with your tongue resting on the roof of your mouth. Make sure you exhale all the air from your lungs, even when you think you have done that, blow out just a little more, to clean your lungs completely. Repeat this four times.
2. Pay attention to your environment and surroundings. What sounds do you hear? What scent do you sense in this place you are in? What energy do you feel? With closed eyes try to tap into the energy in the space around you. Is it vibrant or soft? Is the energy agitated or calm? Some places have negative energy. When people argue, it creates negative energy. It’s a vicious circle, people fight when there is no energy, or when the energy is low, and the fighting itself creates more negative energy. This can cause the place to be blocked from Hashem’s light. Other places in which holy people live, or places where many pray, accumulate beautiful, holy energy. It can be a place filled with light and goodness. In nature, the energy is naturally renewed, but even in nature, it is possible to elevate the energy so the plants will grow better.
3. We can uplift the places that already have good energy by opening the energy fields and infusing the space with Hashem’s light. With prayers and body movement, we can elevate the energy of any space including a garden space, every space big or small, a room in a home, an item, a bed, a chair, even a garment or a piece of jewelry. Used clothing receives the energy of its wearer. If you don’t know who wore it beforehand, you may want to perform this spiritual exercise for it. Choose a space or item for yourself to clear negative energy and elevate the space.
4. Now it’s time for you to start clearing spiritual blocks from your chosen space or item.
Take a few more mindful breaths and feel your lungs filling with divine light. Envision your heart expanding with Hashem’s love and compassion. Can you tap into the spark of divine love within? Open yourself to allow it to grow and fill your entire diaphragm! In the rhythm of your soft breathing in and out of your heart, envision the divine spark growing into a warming bonfire of love.
5. Get in touch with how there is only One and only G-d whose light fills you, your surroundings, and the entire universe. Breathe in and out of this Oneness. Allow yourself to become part of this Oneness.
6. Now get ready to recite the six words of the Shema Yisrael: “Hear Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One!” (Devarim 6:4). If you intend to elevate a certain room, then have כַּוָּנָה/kavana – ‘intention’ on the mezuza. Have in mind to infuse your chosen space, room, or item with Hashem’s oneness as you recite שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֵינוּ הָשֵׁם אֶחָד/Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad!
7. While keeping your intention on the mezuza of the room in which you want to clear the energy, recite the 15 words (in Hebrew) of the Kohanim blessings: “May Hashem bless you and watch over you! May Hashem shine His face upon you and bestow grace on you! May Hashem lift His face upon you and grant you peace!” (Bamidbar 6:24-26).
Keep in mind also the elevation from the level of daughter to sister, to mother, and imagine this gradual elevation of the energy in your space as you recite the exquisite words of Birkat HaKohanim: Yevarechecha Hashem ve’yismerecha. ya’er Hashem panav elecha vichunecha. Yisa Hashem panav elecha veyasem lecha shalom!

יְבָרֶכְךָ הָשֵׁם וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ: יָאֵר הָשֵׁם פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ: כו) יִשָּׂא הָשֵׁם פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם:
8. Continue to breathe and notice the energy around you. You may already feel the energy blocks beginning to open, and that the energy is elevated. Now lift your hands to the height of your head spread out like a fan while your hands are cupped hands and facing each other. With your arms and hands make scooping movements as if you are scooping up the atmosphere around you and bringing it inwards towards your heart. Continue to collect and scoop up the good energy while requesting Hashem to enter His light into the home/room/garden/item or the particular place. Keep collecting and expanding the sparks of Hashem’s light with your arm and hand movements as you recite: לְהַכְנִיס אוֹר הָשֵּׁם/lehachnis or Hashem. Lehachnis or Hashem. Lehachnis or Hashem.
9. Return to your original comfortable place and close your eyes if they aren’t already closed. Breathe softly and focus on the energy in your space. Can you feel a difference? Perhaps the heaviness has lifted, and you sense a loving lightness as if we are all embraced in a ‘divine hug.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

To Where is Our Journey Headed? Where Shall We Come and Go?


Parashat Bamidbar
Where is Our Journey Headed? Where Shall We Come and Go?

Sometimes I just feel like running away from everything… from the responsibilities, interpersonal challenges, and the constant tedious work of keeping the midrasha, home, garden, and computer files more orderly, organized, and together. The toil and the trials seem never-ending, and how tempting it would be to just leave all the challenges and problem-solving behind, to get away and revel in the vast meditative silence of the desert. How calming it would be if it were possible to weed out all the troubling thoughts and become barren of them like the desert. How I yearn to get away from everything and place my naked feet in the warm caressing sand, letting my footprints take me everywhere and nowhere. What would happen if I let go of all these countless responsibilities and learned to play? I know deep down that this isn’t really an option, and even if it were, it’s not what Hashem wants from me. The Jewish people are criticized for running away from responsibility as it states, “They departed from the mountain of G-d, a three-day journey… (Bamidbar 10:33). They departed from Mount Sinai joyfully, like a young child running away from school, saying, “Lest He pile on more mitzvot for us.” Their intention was to take themselves away from there because it was “the mountain of G-d.” (Ramban, Bamidbar 10:35). The Jewish people were running away rather than journeying toward a goal. This is a backward rather than forward-oriented movement. Running to the security room, as the siren alarmed us in Bat Ayin, we were directed toward self-examination regarding our journey. When we get confronted with our mortality, we are prompted to ask ourselves “What is my mission? Where shall I come and go?” The year that the king Mashiach will be revealed… Israel will cry out in panic and say, “Where shall we come and go? Where shall we come and go? Where shall we come and go?” Tell them, do not fear, everything that I did, I only did it for you. Why are you afraid? Do not fear, the time of your redemption has come… (Yalkut Shimoni 60:499). And so, this challenging brief moment in the security room is part of the process.

The Process of Our Upward Life Journey

ספר במדבר פרק א פסוק א וַיְדַבֵּר הָשֵׁם אֶל משֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי...
“Hashem spoke to Moshe at the Sinai Desert…” (Bamidbar 1:1).

Life is a journey. Hashem let us out of Egypt the roundabout indirect way because we needed the process of the journey. We are called upon to continue the Exodus from Egypt to the Sinai Desert to receive the Torah, but the journey doesn’t even end there. After receiving the Torah, we are not done. We are on an everlasting journey with Hashem traveling through the desert to reach the land of Israel. Even within the land of Israel, there are innumerable levels to ascend. “Man is born to labor, as sparks fly upward” (Iyov 5:7). Going through challenges and hardships is part of the toil for which we are created. It is a never-ending process of refinement that we all must go through. We must keep going, keep climbing the rungs of the ladder towards actualizing all the layers of our concealed potential. Rabbi Baruch Gigi brings this concept home by quoting the beautiful prophetic verse from the end of the haftara of Parashat Bamidbar:

ספר הושע פרק ב פסוק כא                                                                                                                                  וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי לְעוֹלָם וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בְּצֶדֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּט וּבְחֶסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים: (כב) וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בֶּאֱמוּנָה וְיָדַעַתְּ אֶת הָשֵׁם:
I will betroth you to Me forever; and I with betroth you to Me with righteousness and with justice and with loving-kindness and with compassion, I will betroth you to Me with faith, and you shall know Hashem” (Hoshea 2:21-22).

Since the period of betrothal – engagement – is inherently temporary, then why does Hoshea describe engagement as everlasting? How would our relationship with G-d be a “betrothal” that lasts “forever?”

Engagement Reflects the Process of Our Ongoing Struggle in Life.
“Prior to the giving of the Torah, if a man met a woman in the marketplace and they decided to marry, he would bring her to his home and conduct relations in private, and thus make her his wife. Once the Torah was given, Am Yisrael was commanded that if a man wants to marry a woman, he must first acquire her [as his wife] before witnesses; [only] afterward does she become his wife, as it is written, ‘If a man takes a wife and engages in relations with her...’” (Rambam, Laws of Marriage, 1:1). The Torah decreed that marriage become a gradual process. Being engaged reflects the concept of being in a process going towards the goal of marriage. Although engagement hopefully won’t be everlasting but will culminate in marriage, engagement symbolizes being in a constant process of working through the challenging maze of life. With the words “I will betroth you to Me – forever,” the prophet emphasizes that the aspiration to grow and progress must always exist, this is the vital importance of ‘process’ versus ‘product.’ Rather than a one-time climactic experience, or a final goal and destination, we desire to be continuously moving and developing, rising ever higher in our Torah, our Divine service, and our acts of kindness toward others. We want to be constantly improving in our righteousness and justice, kindness, and mercy, as described in the verse. We are called to constantly work on improving our character, on the way of G-d, so that we can bequeath it to our children forever.

EmunaHealing Exercise for Processing the Everlasting Struggles of Life
1. Take a short break from running around, from all your immense toil in the world, to tune inwardly. Breathe deeply entering Hashem’s light into your core on the inhale and exhaling all the extraneous unnecessary static. Keep this relaxed breathing until you feel your heart rate slowing down.
2. Envision an empty desert. All you can see is golden sand for miles and miles, just sand, sand, sand. Imagine yourself in this place. You are alone with the sand and with Hashem’s Shechina. You are raised from all the humdrum of your daily day life, to face yourself and your Maker.
3. With a settled breath and without distractions you can become aware of who you really are. You become present to yourself. There is no place to run away to. Allow any thoughts that cross your mind to become transformed into sand – soft, silky sand. Any distracting compulsive thoughts melt and disintegrate into the vast desert sand.
4. Imagine the soft sensation of the sand trickling through the toes of your feet, like an endless open-ended hourglass. The countless grains of sand reflect your everlasting work in this world. Each grain you add through your incessant effort adds up to building a glass pane – a window to Hashem. Look through the window, and see your own reflection as an image of G-d. 
5. Bring any of the struggles you have gone through to your mind. Don’t force the memory, just tune into whatever Hashem brings to your mind at this moment. Recall your pain and hardship, while breathing easily and relaxed in the knowledge that you have crossed that bridge and arrived safely on the other side. Can you feel how much you have grown through going through what you had to go through?
6. You are not alone on your journey. Our struggles are intertwined with each other’s. When our paths meet, we receive support from a mentor or friend, and we give support to another. Through the support you give, you feel supported. Can you experience that?
7. We are never alone. Hashem is holding our hand throughout our struggles, walking with us step by step. Tune into the support He gives you, through His many messengers He sends your way. Feel how Hashem is holding your hand right now, the Presence of the Shechina empathically holding and feeling your pain.
8. Keep breathing mindfully and allow yourself to tap into the loving compassionate embrace of the Divine presence, gently rocking you, as you imagine the sand giving in to the imprint of your body, softly holding your entire being in its vast eternity.    

Sunday, May 7, 2023

How do Blessings Release the Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Yoke so we Can Walk Upright?


Parashat B’Har/B’Chukotai
How do Blessings Release the Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Yoke so we Can Walk Upright?

The Power of Blessing
“Please bless me that I will be able to write well!” I ask my husband and son every Friday, the only time 
available to devote to writing my weekly blog. “May the words flow from you, to write beautiful Torah that will inspire many women!” replies my son, and with this blessing, I’m empowered to focus on the challenging work of writing a cohesive parasha article incorporating a spiritual healing exercise. When I need a break, I jump to the much more enticing work of doing some dishes, cleaning the floor, or picking greens. Yet the words of the blessing continue to reverberate until I triumphantly greet the Shabbat queen all done! “Do not take the blessing of a commoner lightly” (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 15a). Understanding its immense power, I always close an EmunaHealing treatment with a blessing. How much greater are the Divine blessings that open Parashat B’Chukotai. The first letter of the blessings is an א/alef – from the word אִם/im – ‘if” – “If you walk in my statutes.” The last letter of the blessings is a ת/taf – from the word קוֹמֲמִיּוּת/komamiyut – ‘upright,’ which concludes all the blessings in the parasha. The fact that the blessings begin with alef and conclude with taf teaches us that the Torah blessings depend on keeping the entire Torah from alef to taf (from A-Z). Thus, the lack of blessings reflects a blemish in mitzvah observance. This confirms the EmunaHealing principle that every hardship we face has a spiritual root. Although there are only eleven verses of blessings but thirty verses of curses, Rabbeinu Bachaya explains that the blessings are nevertheless the main thing because they encompass the entire alphabet beginning with the first letter alef and ending with the last letter taf. In contrast, the range of the curses in Parashat B’Chukotai is truly short, as their first letter is a ו/vav while their last letter is ה/heh, the letter that stands next to vav. Moreover, describing blessings requires fewer words, since each blessing includes a vast expanse as Pardes Yosef explains that a blessing must be completely good without any lack. For example, if a person is blessed with good health, perhaps she is lacking sustenance, if she has both, she may lack children, etc. If one detail is lacking the blessing is not considered a true blessing. This is not so with the curses; each curse adds an additional hardship. The numerous curses are actually a blessing in disguise, as their purpose is to bring us back to the straight path. Therefore, Hashem brings the lightest curses first to give people a chance of teshuva, if that doesn’t work, He gradually intensifies the curses step by step until the person does teshuva. Yet, when it comes to blessings, they are all available to us all at once as long as we walk in Hashem’s ways.

Releasing Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Blocks
Hashem’s blessings are always available to us if we would only overcome the blocks that prevent us from receiving them. Just as we learn in EmunaHealing, there are physical, emotional, and spiritual blocks, so do the blessings pertain to each of these three realms.  

ויקרא פרק כו פסוק ג 
אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי תֵּלֵכוּ וְאֶת מִצְוֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם: (ד) וְנָתַתִּי גִשְׁמֵיכֶם בְּעִתָּם וְנָתְנָה הָאָרֶץ יְבוּלָהּ וְעֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה יִתֵּן פִּרְיוֹ:
If you walk in My statutes and keep My mitzvot and do them, I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit” (Vayikra 26:3-4).

The three conditions for receiving the Divine blessings are:

1. Walking in Hashem’s statutes 2. Keeping the mitzvot 3. Doing them.

It seems to me that these three have the ability to overcome the three realms of blocks:
1. Walking in Hashem’s statutes, which are beyond the comprehension of the human mind, requires abundant emunah. This overcomes the spiritual block which includes lack of: Hashem’s Light, Tefilah (prayer), Emunah (faith), etc.
2. In order to be able to accept keeping the mitzvot we must overcome the emotional blocks such as fear, lack of commitment, bitterness, lowliness, and depression, which are all emotions that impede a person from making serious commitments to take positive actions.
3. Carrying the mitzvot out into action requires overcoming physical obstacles such as sickness, tiredness, lack of means etc. 

It is interesting to note that the blessings themselves pertain to these three realms:

Physical (blessings of sustenance): “I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit. Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your food to satiety, and you will live in security in your land” (Vayikra 26:4-5).

Emotional (eradicating fears, and rectifying interpersonal relationships): “I will grant peace in the Land, and you will lie down with no one to frighten [you]; I will remove wild beasts from the Land, and no army will pass through your land; You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you; Five of you will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you. I will turn towards you, and I will make you fruitful and increase you, and I will set up My covenant with you. You will eat very old [produce], and you will clear out the old from before the new” (Vayikra 26:6-10).

Spiritual (closeness with Hashem, becoming an abode for the Divine): “I will place My dwelling in your midst, and My Spirit will not reject you; I will walk among you and be your G-d, and you will be My people” (Vayikra 26:11-12).

The Rise of Humanity
The last verse of the blessings incorporates all three realms of human rectification as a result of overcoming physical, emotional, and spiritual blocks that will allow us to grow to reach our perfected state of uprightness:

ספר ויקרא פרק כו פסוק יג 
אֲנִי הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִהְיֹת לָהֶם עֲבָדִים וָאֶשְׁבֹּר מֹטֹת עֻלְּכֶם וָאוֹלֵךְ אֶתְכֶם קוֹמֲמִיּוּת:
“I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt from being slaves to them; and I will break the pegs of your yoke and lead you upright” (Vayikra 26:13).

Just as we came out of the Egyptian slavery to freedom, at the future redemption we will be free from the angel of death – the yetzer hara (negative impulse) – corresponding to “I will break the pegs of your yoke.” Since there is no greater yoke than the yoke of the yetzer hara, only when we break this yoke can we become “upright in our land.” (Chatam Sofer, Vayikra 26:13). Based on our correlation between the blessings and the three realms of human experience, physical, emotional, and spiritual, we can understand that Hashem will empower us to break “our yoke” which encompasses our blocks in each of these realms respectably. Perhaps this is why the verse states “…break the pegs of your yoke…” Each peg could refer to one of these three kinds of blocks which will disintegrate, to allow us to walk upright in our land. The Talmud explains that the word קוֹמֲמִיּוּת/komamiyut means a double stature, which refers to the rectification of Adam and Chava to each grow to their full stature of height (Based on Babylonian Talmud, Chagiga 12a). This will only be fulfilled in the future (Rabbeinu Bachaya). At that time there will be no more hindrance to our physical, emotional, and spiritual freedom. Therefore, we will no longer be bent over, burdened by the various blockages that weigh us down. Rather, we will walk with a healthy posture, with our heads completely erect (Based on R. Yosef Bechor Shor).

EmunaHealing Exercise for Releasing the Pegs of our Yoke and Walking Upright

1. Make yourself comfortable and take several deep breaths. Get in touch with your body. How do you feel? Do you experience any tension anywhere? Perhaps in your shoulders? Does your lower back ache or are your feet sore? Breathe into these body parts, and on the out-breath release any tension or soreness, let them completely disintegrate.  
2. Envision yourself performing a mitzvah with enthusiasm and vigor. It may be a mitzvah that has been difficult for you to connect with. Imagine yourself excited about serving Hashem even through this less preferred mitzvah. Engage your body in the action of doing the mitzvah and allow yourself to feel how keeping this mitzvah energizes every part of your physical being.
3. Now imagine receiving the blessings of abundance. You will eat your food to satiety, and you will live in security in your land. Open yourself to receive all these blessings that Hashem is offering you and let them fill you and heal your body completely.
4. Shift your awareness once more to your breath. Do you feel any fears or other negative emotions? Allow yourself to bring any emotional block to your awareness. Perhaps you have low self-esteem because you grew up with a critical mother. Or perhaps you are afraid of certain kinds of people due to being bullied as a child? Inhale divine light into your fears and any negative emotions such as jealousy or anger and release them with your exhalations. Breathe in divine light and breathe out any negative feelings, breathe them out, out, out, out!
5. Envision yourself making a serious commitment to entering a covenant with Hashem. Imagine the excitement you experience by manifesting your love of G-d and feeling G-d’s love of you. Like in a marriage, you are lovingly happy to tie yourself to serve your Creator. Feel how your commitment opens your heart and disintegrates your fears and any other negative emotions.
6. Now envision yourself receiving the blessings of emotional freedom. There will no longer be any reason to fear, for “I will grant peace in the Land, and you will lie down with no one to frighten [you].” Imagine how any fights, arguments, or disconnect from people in your life gradually become transformed to the deepest, most caring, and loving relationships. Your heart is warming towards these dear people in your life. Communication will flow easily between you, engendering mutual understanding.  
7. Shift your awareness back to your breathing. Is there anything holding you back from truly believing in Hashem and walking in His statutes, even those which are totally beyond your comprehension? Allow yourself to bring any doubts and worries to your attention. What is the root of these doubts? Do you allow yourself to let go of these spiritual blocks and infuse yourself with complete emunah? Breathe the lights of emunah into your keter (crown) on top of your head and offer a silent prayer to Hashem to let your doubts disintegrate to allow yourself to rely on no one but Hashem.
8. Now envision yourself becoming infused and illuminated by the light of emunah – total faith in Hashem and His Torah. Breathe into any doubts and worries and allow them to release on the out-breath. Meditate on the verse, “I will place My dwelling in your midst, and My Spirit will not reject you.” Can you feel Hashem dwelling within you? Perhaps in your heart or in your womb? Hashem won’t reject or abhor you. If you feel any disgust with yourself, let it go as you know that it is not G-dly. “G-d has promised that He will never reject you.”
9. Become aware of your posture and straighten yourself. Feel Hashem’s light pulling you upward as if through an invisible string from your toe to your head, pulling you close to Himself. Lift your head upward and stand erect and upright. Rise to your higher self!

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

How can Women Align Ourselves with the Light of Counting the Omer?

How can Women Align Ourselves with the Light of Counting the Omer?
Parashat Emor

Do we Kill Time or Create Holy Days by Giving Birth to Each New Day?
I have always been bothered whenever I heard people use expressions such as “Let’s kill some time!” We have the opportunity to give birth to every single day in our lives and elevate it through our thoughts, speech, and action. As we learn from Ruth, “The name of the man, with whom I made the day, is Boaz” (Ruth 2:19). Through the spiritual practice of working the sefirot (the Divine Emanations or Radiances, emanated from G-d’s creation process and embodied by us), we make every single day count. The days of the Omer are exquisitely beautiful, yet this period also entails ambivalence. While nature around us is unfolding with new flowers maturing every day and the tree blossoms beginning to fruit, many of us suffer from seasonal allergies. It is as if the light at this time is just too intense. We don’t yet have a vessel strong enough to receive it. Perhaps for the same reason, this delightful period of spring is tainted by the mourning for Rabbi Akiva’s 24.0000 students, who perished in a plague, because they didn’t respect one another. The Omer period is thus dedicated to rectifying our character, trait by trait weekly until our vessels shine at the giving of the Torah on Shavuot. During the first week of the Omer, we worked on rectifying the Divine trait of chesed (loving-kindness) within us. While emulating Avraham and Sarah’s kindness and hospitality, we also worked on setting proper boundaries. The second week was dedicated to learning from Yitzchak how to strengthen our gevurah (self-discipline). During the third week, we integrated the Tiferet (compassion) of Ya’acov. Now, in the fourth week, we work on Netzach (victory) becoming steadfast in overcoming obstacles and aligning ourselves with the eternal Torah of Moshe. In recent years many pious and dedicated women have taken on the spiritual practice of counting the Omer, including many of my students. While I am proud of the dedication of all these women, taking upon themselves more than what the halacha requires, I personally do not count the Omer for kabbalistic reasons. which I attempt to explain below.

Counting the Omer is a Mitzvah Relating to the Realm of the Masculine
While I do believe in the importance of working on building our character trait by trait in the Omer period no less than women who meticulously count the Omer, there are deep reasons why women are exempt from this mitzvah, and traditionally women didn’t count the Omer (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, Mishna Berurah 489:3). The practice of women refraining from counting the Omer is based on the Zohar and the Arizal:

זוהר מנוקד חלק ג דף צז/א: וּבְגִין דְּאִלֵּין יוֹמִין, יוֹמִין דְּעָלְמָא דִּדְכוּרָא, לָא אִתְמְסַר חוּשְׁבָּנָא דָּא אֶלָּא לְגַבְרֵי בִּלְחוֹדַיְיהוּ

Since these days [of sefirah] are days from the realm of the masculine, this counting [of Sefirat
] was given over to males alone (Zohar, Part 3:97a).

Based on Arizal Women are Discouraged from Counting the Omer
I’m convinced there are additional deeper reasons for the Kabbalists discouraging women from counting the Omer. Apparently, according to the Arizal this practice is not even permitted for women: Our Rav [Arizal] had to explain specific reasons regarding Sefirat ha’Omer that they are not applicable to women, to teach us that they [women] are not permitted to fulfill them voluntarily like other positive time-bound mitzvot (Responsa Rav Pa'alim I Sod Yesharim 12). There are several texts in the Arizal about this topic, for example, he explains that counting the Omer is about drawing from the male to the female. We would hope that most healthy women are predominantly female, with the ability to raise the feminine waters from below to above rather than the other way around which counting the Omer entails:

There is another intention in the matter of counting the Omer, one needs to meditate to draw down from the 49 male days to the 49 female days. Since the intention is to draw down [spiritual energy] in malchut [nukbah/Female], therefore one must draw down from above to below from Chesed to Malchut and to bring down the spiritual energy from above – the male, to below – the female… (Arizal, Sha’ar Hakavanot Inyan Sefirat ha’Omer, derush 11).

Arizal furthermore explains that all the positive mitzvot are rooted in chesed [a male quality as opposed to the female gevurah]. The part of the positive mitzvot that relate to women is revealed chesed, whereas the time caused positive mitzvot are concealed chesed, in which women do not have any portion” (Based on Arizal, Hakdamah, Sha’ar haMitzvot). 

The Omer Period: Auspicious for Aligning Ourselves with the Seven Lower Sefirot
Whether you are a woman who counts the Omer or not, this period of counting the Omer is auspicious for aligning ourselves with the seven lower sefirot and their sub-sefirot. According to the Shlah Hakodesh, being created in the Divine image entails having the ability to perfect ourselves and reflect Hashem through manifesting the Divine sefirot within our entire being.  The seven lower sefirot embody the lights of the emotions we need to balance during the seven weeks of counting the Omer. Each of the sefirot also contains within itself an element of all the others. They are all interincluded’ within each other like a hologram. This fractal structure is one way in which the sefirot are infinite or divine in their essence. Every day of the Omer offers the opportunity to work on a specific sefirah aspect of the dominating sefirah of that day. We can all work on expressing every sefirah on its highest note, by balancing and fine-tuning each sefirah, integrating their lights within each other. One important EmunaHealing tool is called matching the resonance. You take one person/spiritual concept/ entity in one hand, the other person/concept/entity in the other hand and ask: “I request to match the resonances between x and y.” Then you wait a maximum of 1½ minutes while allowing yourself to feel the energy between your two hands connecting. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if the hands are exactly at the same height, or who/what you take in the right hand and who/what in the left hand. In order to achieve balance in the flow of the sefirot manifested within us we can use this EmunaHealing technique to match the resonances of each of the sefirot.

EmunaHealing Exercise for Matching Your Resonance with the Seven Emotional Sefirot
1. Settle yourself in your space, you may want to find a beautiful nature spot to relax into, taking in the sky, the clouds, the birds, the wind, the earth the grass, and flowers. Breathe in the soft caress of nature into your forehead and breathe out of your forehead any doubt and worries.
2. Inhale Hashem’s light of kindness into your right shoulder and exhale any tension you may hold there. Now, inhale Divine power and strength into your left shoulder and exhale any pressure you may feel there.
3. Open your arms a bit more than shoulder distance apart, allowing your palms to face one another. Designate your left arm to represent you and the right to represent the sefirah of chesed. Keep the arms and palms in the same position while reciting “I request to match myself with the light of Avraham’s chesed/kindness!” Feel the energy like an electric current between your hands. Shake out your arms and reposition them, this time designating your right arm to represent you and the left to represent the sefirah of gevurah, then recite: “I request to match myself with the light of Yitzchak’s gevurah/strength!” Again, feel the energy like an electric current between your two hands.
4. Place your hands between your breasts and breathe Hashem’s light of compassion into your heart. Breathe out of your heart any pain and trauma you may have experienced. Reposition your arms and palms in the matching resonance pose. Keep the arms and palms in the same position while reciting “I request to match myself with the light of Ya’acov’s tiferet/compassion!” Feel the energy like an electric current between your hands. Relax your arms and hands.
5. Breathe Hashem’s lifegiving energy into both of your kidneys in the back below your ribcage, breathe out of your kidneys worry, and fear. Reposition your arms and palms in the matching resonance pose. Imagine the left hand representing yourself. Keep the arms and palms in the same position while reciting “I request to match myself with the light of Moshe’s netzach/eternity! Feel the energy like an electric current between your hands. Now take the energy of yourself in your right hand, reciting “I request to match myself with the light of Aharon’s hod/empathy! Feel the energy like an electric current between your hands. Shake them off. Relax.
6. Inhale Hashem’s light into your pelvic area and exhale any tension from your pelvis.   Reposition your arms and palms in the matching resonance pose. Keep the arms and palms in the same position while reciting “I request to match myself with the light of Yosef’s yesod/foundation!” Feel the energy like an electric current between your hands. Then let your arms relax.
7. Breathe in Hashem’s light of royalty all the way down into your feet. Breathe out of your feet any insecurity and ‘ungroundnessness.’ Reposition your arms and palms in the matching resonance pose. Keep the arms and palms in the same position while reciting “I request to match myself with the light of David’s malchut/royalty!” Feel the energy like an electric current between your hands. Relax your arms and hands. Now with your eyes closed allow yourself to feel the energy of each sefirah connecting with each other and shining through your entire being!

Friday, April 28, 2023

True Forgiveness is a Prerequisite to Becoming Holy


Parashat Acharei Mot/Kedoshim
True Forgiveness is a Prerequisite to Becoming Holy

True Forgiveness is a Prerequisite to Becoming Holy
When I became a Ba’alat Teshuva in 1980, I found it easy to take on the external mitzvot such as covering my elbows and knees, keeping kosher, and even keeping all the laws of separation from the other sex. I found it much more difficult to actualize the internal mitzvot such as serving Hashem with joy, being happy on the holidays, and feeling love for those people whose energy irritated me. Most difficult is the mitzvah to remove grudges by totally forgiving others for the deep hurts they may have caused us. As known, the resistance of ‘the other side’ is always in proportion to the holiness involved. Therefore, it seems that precisely the most challenging mitzvot, are the most essential.  Based on this principle, I believe that the internal mitzvot are most vital, and especially the mitzvah of not bearing a grudge. Having negative feelings, remembering someone did something to us that we hold in our heart, is unhealthy and can cause us to focus solely on the negative. It has been scientifically proven that taking revenge or harboring grudges is destructive not only to victims but also to the perpetrators.
People who are more prone to holding grudges tend to be sicker than their peaceful peers. The mitzvah not to bear a grudge is written in Parashat Kedoshim, which means “Holy.” This parasha opens with “…You shall be holy because I am holy” (Vayikra 19:2). If we strive to be truly holy, we must rid ourselves of even the tiniest tinge of grudge towards anyone. Thus, for me, removing any vendetta from our hearts, to truly love, is the most important principle in the Torah. As Rabbi Akiva teaches, “The greatest principle in the Torah is to ‘Love your fellow as yourself’” (Vayikra 19:18); (Bereishit Rabbah 24:7). This implies that feeling positively toward someone else and to care for that person we must also care for ourselves.  But how will we be able to truly love others as well as ourselves without letting go of old grudges and resentments?

The Mitzvah of Love and Forgiveness Starts with Ourselves
One of the many interpersonal mitzvot in Parashat Kedoshim is the mitzvah to love others feel like we supposedly love ourselves:

ספר ויקרא פרק יט פסוק יז-יח לֹא תִשְׂנָא אֶת אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא:

לֹא תִקֹּם וְלֹא תִטֹּר אֶת בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי הָשֵׁם:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall surely rebuke your fellow Jew, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your fellow Jew as yourself: I am Hashem” (Vayikra 19:17-18).

To truly love we must let go of all grudges not just against others but primarily against ourselves. People who understand the necessity of taking responsibility for their choices and actions are always harder on themselves than on anyone else. We often hold ourselves accountable to a much higher standard. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can become damaging when we are unable to forgive ourselves. When we work on forgiveness, self-forgiveness is the starting point. We cannot give to others what we do not have ourselves. How can we give love if we harbor self-hate? How can we forgive others if we haven’t forgiven ourselves? When we forgive, it is not about validating the act, but about letting go of the power that act has in our lives. This is particularly important when it is our own actions that we must forgive. I find that women who had critical mothers have a harder time with self-love and being able to forgive themselves.

Eight Steps to Complete Forgiveness
Forgiveness is not always a neat or linear experience. It is more like peeling an onion. The following steps can help you peel back new layers of the onion. Each step can help you experience deeper levels of divine compassion and healing. As time passes, you may find that additional layers with new emotions surface. You can then repeat the steps, and it may also be helpful to share your feelings with a soul friend and continue the process of forgiveness with an EmunaHealer.

1. Accept Your Pain by Looking for G-d within Every Painful Experience
Blaming others is an ingrained instinct carried over by Adam and Eve in the Garden. Rather than becoming upset when someone wrongs us, we can practice looking inwards and gain valuable lessons from the pain or irritation we endured. There is a deeper reason why this thing was done against you, which you may or may not be aware of. Look for the benefits of the interpersonal transgressions you have experienced. Accept that in whatever way you have been hurt by others, it was meant to be, as a wake-up call and a lesson to learn from. It may also be a cleansing and subsequent atonement for something you have done in this reincarnation or in prior incarnations.

2. Emulate Hashem’s Tolerance and Forgiveness
“Who is a G-d like You, who pardons iniquity, and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?... (Michah 7:18). Just as you desire Hashem’s forgiveness, so must you grant it to others. Receiving Hashem’s forgiveness helps you to forgive others, and extending forgiveness to others helps you to ask for the forgiveness that you need. A simple prayer begins the journey.

3. Sooth Yourself and Acknowledge Your Hurt
Usually, when you’re upset or aggravated you feel hurt, loss, disrespect, or rejection. By self-soothing, we can control some of the anger and fear and lessen any subsequent unforgiveness. Self-soothing includes listening to our own pain, acknowledging the hardship we experience, and sending self-love and compassion to our hurt feelings. Years ago, I was upset with an old neighbor (no longer my neighbor) who kept dumping garbage in our garden. If I repressed my feelings, it would make me depressed and cause me to accumulate resentment. If I’d make an irritated remark, I’d offend her and feel worse myself. Instead, I listened to my emotions and kindly acknowledged them. When I was able to pray, I deeply realized that the offense was quite unintentional and certainly not targeted against me. Then I was able to speak lovingly without any hint of irritation and kindly request of the neighbor to make more effort to ensure that none of their garbage would end up on our plot.

4.  Set Boundaries
If you reflect on your past and present relationships, perhaps you will find a pattern of repeated mistreatment in similar ways. You may have a blind spot or a way that you’re inadvertently enabling others to disrespect or hurt you. It’s important to set wise boundaries on your expectations and interactions with others. Sometimes you need to keep your distance, say no, or hold back your vulnerable emotions and needs. True reconciliation depends on both sides acting with honest and responsible love for one another without compromising their own basic emotional needs.

5.  Relieve Your heart to Hashem and to Mentor
For your emotional healing and to gain the insight and strength you need to forgive, it’s important to find someone safe to verbalize your pain with, as it states, “If there is anxiety in a man’s mind let him speak of it” (Mishlei 12:25). Don’t forget to speak with Hashem in hitbodedut specifying to Him all the details of your pain. This will bring you the greatest relief. I have made it my practice to recite the forgiveness prayer, which is part of the bedtime prayer, to avoid going to sleep without first having done my best to forgive everyone.

6.  Lessen the Injustice Gap and Entrust the Negative Behavior into Hashem’s Hand
It’s important to view the scenario from a different and more positive perspective and lower your expectations about the ideal outcome. Your EmunaHealer may facilitate this and suggest what might be working, even to a small degree, trying to magnify that positive perspective. Ultimately, forgiveness means letting G-d be the true judge to handle what you have gone through with the other person. Praying certain Tehillim that describe dealing with enemies can help you to feel your emotions, share with G-d, and leave justice in His hands (see Tehillim 10:15, 18:6-15, 31:17, 35:1-28, 54:5, 56:5-7, 58:6-8, 69:19-28, 70:13).

7. Open your Heart to Find Sympathy and Pray for Your Offender
Whenever possible try giving the benefit of the doubt and empathize with your offender. Sometimes this is simply impossible, particularly in the case of unexpected betrayals or heinous harm. A realistic goal in such cases is to simply cultivate sympathy. Your EmunaHealer can facilitate you to search for reasons and ways in which you can feel sorry for the person who inflicted the harm. You can practice thinking of what kind of help the offender might be given and what nice things people could do to help this person. Although not easy, this way we can learn to feel even the smallest amount of compassion toward the transgressor (Worthington & Scherer, 2004). Whenever you feel hurt or upset with anyone, practice blessing and praying for her. At first, it may be hard, but eventually, this practice softens the heart and helps us to forgive.

8. Repent for your Own Tinge of your offender's Sin
The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches that if it happened that you saw, heard, or experienced someone else’s wrong, understand that you yourself have a tinge of that same failing. Hashem makes you experience the offense to motivate you to rectify yourself completely. When you realize that the main reason you came to witness the misdeed, is to rectify it by removing yourself completely from this kind of behavior. Since all of Israel is considered as one person, when you repent you will include the offender within yourself by means of this unity. Thus, the offender will be transformed to repent as well, and you will achieve the character trait of “seek peace and pursue it” (Tehillim 13:15); (Based on Toldot Ya’acov Yosef, Parashat Lech Lecha).

Three Tools for the EmunaHealer to Facilitate Forgiveness

1. Emotional Replacement
The EmunaHealer can facilitate the person in treatment to replace negative unforgiving emotions gradually with positive other-oriented emotions by experiencing other self-forgetful positive emotions. This emotional replacement can be facilitated by helping the person in treatment give an altruistically motivated gift of forgiveness. We can use a memory described by the victim to motivate altruism through humility in realizing that she too has offended. This leads to the feeling of gratitude for having been forgiven. We can instill hope in the victim that when we do something good for others, even those who have hurt us, we will be blessed in return. When it is difficult for the person we treat to reflect on her past and recall times when she offended another but was forgiven, the EmunaHealer can give prompts such as: Think of whether you offended a parent, teacher, romantic partner, friend, or coworker. Usually, with these prompts, people can recall many experiences where they wronged someone and were forgiven (Worthington & Scherer, 2004).

2. Empty Chair Technique
One of the most effective ways to help a person in treatment experience empathy is to use the empty-chair technique. The person victim imagines sitting across from the offender, who is imagined to be sitting in an empty chair. The victim describes her complaint as if the offender were there. She then moves to the empty chair and responds from the point of view of the offender. The conversation proceeds with the person in treatment moving back and forth between chairs. The objective is to allow the person to express both sides of the conversation personally, and thus experience empathy. In doing so, the person might imagine an apology or at least an acknowledgment of the hurt that was inflicted.

3. Naikan Therapy
Naikan therapy is a Japanese practice of self-reflection relatively unknown in the Western world. It focuses on three questions:
What have you received?
What have you returned?
What trouble have you caused?
According to this therapy, we first focus on the person’s relationship with the mother and from there we expand outwards to other relationships. A simplified form of Naikan therapy involves asking the participants to journal daily for one week answering the three Naikan questions after a brief version of loving-kindness meditation (Ozawa-de Silva, 2006). During the sessions, we listen to the participant allowing her to put into words what she has discovered.

EmunaHealing Exercise for Facilitating Complete Forgiveness for Yourself and Others
(Based on A Meditation for the Anniversary of 9/11 Spiritual Practice by Jack Kornfield and Exercise: Revenge and Forgiveness by Louise Hay)
1. Sit quietly and peacefully. Allow your eyes to close and your breath to be natural and easy. Let your body and mind relax. Breathing gently into the area of your heart, let yourself feel all the barriers you have erected and the emotions that you have carried because you have not forgiven – not forgiven yourself, not forgiven others.
2. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or condoning the suffering caused by others or yourself. You can do everything in your power to prevent more harm. Forgiveness is the release of any bitterness and hatred in your own heart, so you are free to move on. Let yourself feel the pain of keeping your heart closed. Then, breathing softly, begin asking and extending forgiveness, letting the feelings that come up grow deeper as you repeat them.
3. Asking Forgiveness of Others
Recite: “There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed others, have betrayed or abandoned them, caused them suffering, knowingly or unknowingly, out of my pain, fear, anger, and confusion.” Let yourself remember and visualize the ways you have hurt others. See and feel the pain you have caused out of your own fear and confusion. Feel your own sorrow and regret. Sense how you can finally release this burden and ask for forgiveness. Picture each memory that still burdens your heart. Then repeat to each person in your mind: “I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness.”
4. Offering Forgiveness to Yourself 
When you have cleared as much as you can for now, turn your attention to self-forgiveness. Recite: “There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed myself. I have betrayed or abandoned myself many times through thought, word, or deed, knowingly and unknowingly.” Feel your own precious body and life. Let yourself see the ways you have hurt or harmed yourself. Recall them and picture them. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this and sense that you can release these burdens. Extend forgiveness for each of them, one by one. Repeat to yourself: “For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain, and confusion, I now extend full and heartfelt forgiveness. Say out loud to yourself, “I forgive myself for ___________.” Do this for another five minutes or so. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.”
5. Think of the people who are hardest to forgive. What would you really like to do to them? What do they need to do to gain your forgiveness? Imagine that happening now. Get into the details. How long do you want them to suffer or do penance?
6. Offering Forgiveness to Those Who Have Hurt or Harmed You
Recite: “There are many ways that I have been harmed by others, abused or abandoned, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word, or deed.” Let yourself remember and picture these many ways. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this past and sense that you can release this burden of pain by extending forgiveness whenever your heart is ready.
7. Now we are ready to forgive. Say to yourself: “I now remember the many ways others have hurt or harmed me, wounded me, out of fear, pain, confusion, and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart for too long. Recite loudly: “The person I need to forgive is ___________ and I forgive you for ___________. To the extent that I am ready, I offer them forgiveness. To those who have caused me harm, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.”
8. Do this over and over. You will have many things to forgive some for and only one or two to forgive others for. Imagine the person you are forgiving saying to you, “Thank you, I set you free now.” Do this for at least five or ten minutes. Search your heart for the injustices you still carry. Then let them go.
9. Gently repeat these directions for forgiveness until you feel a release in your heart. For some great pains, you may not feel a release but only the burden and the anguish or anger you have held. Touch this softly. Be forgiving of yourself for not yet being ready to let go and move on. Forgiveness cannot be forced; it cannot be artificial. Simply continue the practice and let the words and spiritual practices work gradually in their own way. In time you can make forgiveness meditation a regular part of your life, letting go of the past and opening your heart to each new moment with a wise loving-kindness.
10. When you feel complete, let it be over forever. These are powerful exercises and good to do at least once a week to clear out any remaining rubbish. To indulge in this every day would be too much. Some experiences are easy to let go and some we must chip away at until suddenly one day they let go and dissolve. Usually at this point, you feel lighter and freer.