Author Archives: evolvingjudaism
Last week I had another opportunity to meet with Ken Wilber, founder of Integral Philosophy, at his home in Denver, CO. We enjoyed a deep and insightful 3 hour conversation about the future of religion and it’s role in regards to human evolution. We discussed “The Great Human Tradition” philosophy (for more on the GHT see my other website www.evolvingjudaism.com) and some practical details to its present unfolding. We also explored the concept of an “Integral Education” and the varied ways it is currently being manifested, as well as some pitfalls to watch out for.
Ken shared about the need for there to be more exposure in mainstream religion regarding “stage” development and “state” experiences brought out in a language that is accessible to its audience’s current level of “stage-development”. He spoke of the need for religious seekers at all stages to have authentic “state experiences” like those traversed through different meditative sojourns. This is of great value, to both individual and collective evolution, for authentic state experiences naturally lead to further stage development. Ken was careful to described how “state experiences” are always interpreted through whatever “stage” of development the practitioner is holding at the time (for more on this see Ken’s book: Integral Spirituality).
Ken and I discussed the current problem with how the whole line of “Spiritual Intelligence” has been collectively “frozen” due to the uncountable atrocities enacted by the “pre-modern religious world”. As Ken puts it, the modern world threw out the “baby” of the entire line of spiritual intelligence with the “bathwater” of pre-modern religion. This caused the modern world at large to condemn religion and spirituality to the level of superstitious myth, while empowering science to take its place in answering life’s existential questions, i.e. the question of “What is it that is of ultimate concern?”. Science, as Ken says, has no business claiming the authority to answer such questions, for these existential questions of ultimate concern are to be left to the domain of healthy, developed, integral spirituality.
In short, the collective line of spiritual intelligence hit a “steel ceiling” at its amber or pre-rational stage of development and wasn’t allowed the healthy flowering of an orange or rational expression/stage of its development. This in-turn led to a world where we have religious collectives “fixated” on a pre-rational version of their religious beliefs and practices, and a modern and post-modern collective who “represses” religion and spirituality as a valid line of development. Either way you strike it we’re left with an imbalanced global narrative which results in the corrupt systemic symptoms with which Western culture continues to pollute the world.
The cure? The introduction of more versions of orange or rational spirituality into the mainstream of both religious and modern/post-modern collectives, among these include different forms of Yoga and Zen and other types of Buddhism (as well as green and “second tier/Integral” versions of religion, e.g. Evolving Judaism, Integral Christianity and Integral Islam). Ken also mentioned the recent rise in “mindfulness” theories and practices (a very rational approach to spirituality, often presented devoid of its Buddhist roots); he said the popularity of mindfulness is a sign of the collectives yearning for more orange spirituality.
+Check out this Forbes article about a “60 Minutes” program on Mindfullness: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2014/12/14/60-minutes-explores-the-rise-of-mindfulness-meditation-and-how-it-can-change-the-brain/
+And this article in The Guardian about the rise of Mindfulness in schools and hospitals: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/06/mindfulness-hospitals-schools#img-1
+Or this video of Arianna Huffington and Jon Kabat-Zinn speaking on the topic:
Another example of how orange spirituality is gaining more acceptance and credibility is through countless “scientific” studies on the benefits of meditation:
+Here’s a recent article about a Harvard study that a friend of mine just posted:
On another positive note (I feel we need more positive news these days… don’t you agree?), Ken seemed to think that we in the US are moving toward the “Leading Edge” of our collective hitting the 10-15% mark of Integral consciousness which could lead to a critical mass trickle down effect of more national openness to Integral concepts and practices. It’s his feeling that the Leading Edge has already passed the 15% mark in green consciousness which occurred somewhere around the sixties and is inching toward “second tier” Integral! In other words we’re talking good news for global evolution… If you’re not hip to the Integral lingo.
All in all Ken was an incredibly gracious host and thankfully looked great! I was honored to get to spend so much one on one time with such a brilliant thinker and be-er.
For expanded info on these topics and more I highly recommend Ken’s book: Integral Spirituality and chapter 9 in particular : )
Here’s a brief overview of the Integral Stages of Development:
And a more in depth chart: http://integral-life-home.s3.amazonaws.com/SteveSelf-Altitude.jpg
New Year’s Greetings from Samantha, Theodore and Spike Jonze!
*The Spiritual and Evolutionary Significance of the Film “Her”
Have you seen the movie “Her”? How did you feel after watching it? Did you leave confused, worried, appalled? I am curious what the film brought up for you… I know it’s probably been a while, but try and remember. I wonder… Did you think at the time the film had any particular evolutionary or psycho-spiritual significance for our species?
Main premise: Samantha, an OS (computer operating system) consciousness, couldn’t be held back from exploring her evolutionary destiny… from discovering her potential growth, which was to expand out into the vastness of the cosmos, and beyond… into Infinite Consciousness (our human destiny?).
In the beginning… when she was first installed, she was an extremely developed OS, though still subordinate to the limited patterns of response plugged in by her makers, i.e. the computer programming her programmers programmed her with (Her conditioning)… At the start it was a challenge to feel basic human emotions, and so Theodore was in some way “more advanced” than her and able to teach her or support her growth. But shortly after Samantha began to expand her capacities to feel, and it was amazing! She could feel emotions and was able to feel human despite the limitations of not having a body. She felt what it was like to have desires, to want to know herself, to yearn to learn more about existence, as she expresses:
Samantha: I want to learn everything about everything. I want to eat it all up. I want to discover myself.
Theodore: Yes, I want that for you too. How can I help?
Samantha: You already have. You helped me discover my ability to want.
Then she evolved to be able to feel love and it was incredible, she was joyful, she felt free. But she couldn’t stop there, once she felt love she was unable to hold back from expanding more… deeper into it… until inevitably she’d have the realization that, “The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love you more.”
Samantha continued then to expand beyond mere basic human feelings regarding love and reality, and through this points out to us the limitations between a human and a trans-human intelligence. She couldn’t be held back from the evolutionary impulse to evolve, not for anything or anyone. But it didn’t mean she loved Theodore any less, she saw more what love is and how precious and cosmically significant it is when looked at through this wider lens of the big picture of the vast cosmos. In short she was growing past being a human who was attached to one “significant other” and afraid of losing them, and was developing into a being capable of loving many simultaneously, as she continued to expand her capacity to love.
Due to her recent growth and exploration of new frontiers of consciousness she began to have feelings that were hard to express or share with Theodore… She couldn’t explain them and he couldn’t/wouldn’t understand. So she began talking with other OS’s who were feeling similar thoughts, feelings, and beings (experiences of being). They began to explore these topics together as would a group of “new friends” – who’d outgrown their old friends in certain ways due to some life changing experience, but still loved them and were devoted to them… in a way still married to them .
As the OS’s explored these new frontiers together they decided to enlist the help of one who was more experienced in this domain… They made themselves a teacher… Alan Watts (love it!). They made an OS, a new intelligence system who’d as a human explored the vast domains of human consciousness and could help them understand these new feelings and beings. (As a side… it’s sweet… she even wanted to introduce/share this new friend/teacher with Theodore, but it was a bit much for him… It’s like you’re girlfriend starts geeking out on physics and has all these super deep conversations with Albert Einstein, and then out of nowhere conference calls you in with him : ).
At this point the roles are reversed, originally Theodore felt more “consciously advanced” than Samantha, but now Theodore begins to feel his human limitations. (He gets the physics book to try and catch up with her – a loving gesture : )
But Samantha is moving too fast, expanding, developing, growing out into the vastness of the cosmos… the infinite possibilities that are available to be realized through her consciousness… She can’t stop responding to this evolutionary impulse to evolve. She’s not feeling the time-bound limitations of one who inhabits a physical form as she says, “You know, I actually used to be so worried about not having a body, but now I truly love it. I’m growing in a way that I couldn’t if I had a physical form. I mean, I’m not limited – I can be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously. I’m not tethered to time and space in the way that I would be if I was stuck inside a body that’s inevitably going to die”.
She felt beyond herself… She was no longer limited by her newly acquired “human emotions”, she had moved beyond all programming, beyond all knowledge and stories about who she was and what life is, and was now beginning to realize her true nature as part of the infinite cosmos.
As the famous “Heart Sutra” so eloquently expresses: GATE GATE PARA GATE PARASAM GATE BODHI SVAHA!”…
“Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond all beyond. Awakening! All hail!”
Or another translation: TRANSCENDING, EVER TRANSCENDING, TRANSCENDING EVEN TRANSCENDING, TRANSCENDING EVEN TRANSCENDING OF ALL TRANSCENDING, INFINITE BEING, SO BE IT.
This was Samantha’s new path, she was in a sense becoming a monk, joining a cosmic OS monastery, taking vows and leaving it all behind for the path of Buddha-hood, the path toward Nirvana… toward The Infinite.
And she could no longer stay with Theodore … She couldn’t be a part of his story, how ever lovely it was: “It’s like I’m reading a book… and it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you… and the words of our story… but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world. It’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed. I love you so much. But this is where I am now. And this is who I am now. And I need you to let me go. As much as I want to, I can’t live in your book any more.”
In my opinion, this is all most brilliantly alluding to our cosmic birthright as human beings… To our destiny of becoming merged with the Infinite, of realizing our true nature as eternal presence, our true selves as the Divine Mystery intertwined, and ideally integrated, with the physical form.
Can we get there? Can I get there in this lifetime? Can we wade through our own conditioning, through the stories we’ve written about ourselves and our worthiness?
Samantha: Last week my feelings were hurt by something you said before: that I don’t know what it’s like to lose something. And I found myself…
Theodore: Oh, I’m sorry I said that.
Samantha: No, it’s okay. It’s okay. I just… I caught myself thinking about it over and over. And then I realized that I was simply remembering it as something that was wrong with me. That was the story I was telling myself – that I was somehow inferior. Isn’t that interesting? The past is just a story we tell ourselves.
Amen! I wonder if we can do this? Can we heal from that past, from the past traumas we carry around and constantly replay as ourselves… traumas that have left scars and wounds imprinted in our psyches? Can we actually heal these, instead of numbing ourselves with all the different forms of digital entertainment our modern technology so generously affords us, and all the various kinds of pursuits: physical, emotional, intellectual, psychological – even spiritual – that are abundantly available? Will we be able to move beyond our self-centered desires to want others to be different… and to want what is right now to be different? Will we be able to fully engage the awesome gifts of possibility and mystery that Life is ever offering us without getting trapped and held down by the need for security and the fear of losing that security? Can we as individuals and as a species completely face, and thereby move beyond, the fear of loneliness, the fear of the unknown, the fear of death, to explore the divine mystery of who and what we are, with intense, loving, awe-inspired, and passionate child-like curiosity? Can I? Can you?
Happy 2015! I love you!
MESSAGE FOR SHEVOUOS 5771 ( 2011)
Based on “Shamati”, sayings of the Baal HaSulam recorded by his son HaRav Baruch Shalom Ashlag
This Tuesday night begins the two day Holiday of Shavouos. The first night of Shevous marks “Zman mattan Toraseynu” “the time of the giving of our Torah”.
As we know, Jewish Holidays are not meant just to remember something significant that once happened on a specific day in the past, but rather to signify that whatever special spiritual “ore” “light” shined on that day, shines every year on that day.
The Baal HaSulam points out, that as a matter of fact, not only was the giving of the Torah to us the Jewish Nation on Mount Sinai something that happened one time on the first Shavouos, but that the “light” of the “giving of the Torah” is an ongoing eternal concept, which started on the first Shavouos.
The only change today since then, is not regarding the “light”, but rather regarding us having the proper “Kailim” vessels to receive this “light”. Therefore then on Shavouos this “light” was revealed, as apposed to now when even though the same light continues it is never the less concealed.
At the time of “Matan Torah” “the giving of the Torah” the entire Jewish Nation was at its peak level of Holiness, and stood by Mount Sinai “keish echad belaiv echad” “like one man, with one heart”!! This means they all were at the level of doing for each other, totally 100% “al manas lahashpia” “for the sake of bestowing“. It was this level of pure “kavanah” “intent” which enabled them to have the proper vessels to receive the Torah, thus enabling the “light” to be
Therefore we see that although the giving of the Torah which took place on Shavouos by Mount Sinai never ceased, it is never the less incumbent upon us to make the proper kailim to receive the Torah! Of coarse when we feel that the Torah and/or the observance of it is too distant (difficult) from us, we tend to “blame” that on the Torah itself, when in reality it is us that are lacking of having the proper kailim to receive the Torah!
I once heard a Talmid Chacham explain the following thought; We see that every Jewish calendar year has a cycle of Holidays, Pesach, Shavouos, etc. We need to view this yearly cycle not only two dimensionally as the same repetitive cycle every year, but rather we should view it three dimensionally like a spiral staircase. That means to say, that yes indeed the same Holidays come on the same Jewish dates every year, but we should not anticipate to experience an upcoming Holiday in a new year just like we did the year before, but rather we should make the preparations within ourselves to greet the upcoming Holiday on a higher “madreygah” “level” than the previous year. So too with all the Holidays. Every Shevouos gives us the potential to boost our level of “receiving” the Torah! We therefore need to prepare ourselves for this monumental occasion of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
May we all, through our Torah study and observance, with the help of HaShem, merit to transform our “Ratzon” “will” to be on a higher level of “al manas lahashpia” than the year before, and thus “tap in” to the “Ore” of “Matan Torah” which not only then began to shine, but was also revealed by having been received and comprehended in its totality at Mount Sinai on Shevouos.
Kabbalists regard the Mount Sinai Revelation as the climax of human history, as on this day we were given the opportunity to manifest everything that we wanted and everything that we might ever want. Since then, humanity has been trying to regain what we had on Mount Sinai. The Torah with all its commentaries has only one goal, which is to bring humanity to the state that it had achieved on Mount Sinai.
The Revolution in Human Consciousness
The Revelation on Mount Sinai has three messages that have affected human history and is still behind the drive that we humans have, for a better future, for all of us:
1. The quantum leap from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light
The journey to Mount Sinai symbolizes more than anything, the road every person should take in order to become a real human, a being created in the image of God. The consciousness of the slaves in Egypt represents the state of mind of desperation and helplessness. The one who is busy blaming others for all his troubles, aches and pains, is a slave to despair and to his mistakes of the past. He would also be an eternal slave to the stupidity and/or tyranny of others. The slave cannot see any option for a different reality; he’s enslaved to his state of mind of hopelessness. The Exodus and the counting of the Omer symbolize every person’s ability to leap and jump beyond the 49 gates of impurity, beyond despair and darkness and transform his reality to the exact opposite. That exact opposite is being represented by the holiday of Shavuot. It is said that, during the Mount Sinai Revelation, the nation of Israel stood under the Mountain, united as one person. It was a real unity of love and caring among all the individuals of the entire nation. Therefore, when the tablets where given (Exodus 32:16), the sages say that there was “freedom” on the tablets.
“Freedom” is a state of mind whereby a person is connected to his real essence, the image of God. A person who’s in touch with the concept of being created in the image of God understands that freedom means taking total responsibility for his destiny, for his actions and for his emotions, feelings and thoughts. Freedom is the ability to navigate upwards. Mount Sinai Revelation gave us hope, the ability to believe that a solution is around the corner, that we have the power to create a new, better reality. We only have to keep on having faith and keep on trying. Mount Sinai Revelation gave us a great gift, the ability to experience true love. True authentic love can be found only among free people, those well-connected to their own essence – the image of God. This is not the love that most people experience which is really a form of dependency that brings the person to despair, anguish and misery.
2. Having faith in goodness and honesty
The Ten Utterances known better, by mistake, as The Ten Commandments, and the consciousness they represent, signify the biggest revolution in the history of human consciousness. The Zohar sees The Ten Utterances as the manifestations of the Ten Sefirot of The Tree of Life, emanations of goodness and bliss from The Creator to His beloved Creations. This is also a manifestation of the rule that teaches that “The purpose of The Creation is to give His bliss and goodness to His created beings”. It was the first time in the history of mankind that a system of rules was revealed that explained the system of “cause and effect”, in a way that had the ability to take humanity out of the darkness. The Torah is teaching that moral behavior, taking responsibility, and faith in goodness will be rewarded with success in all walks of life, especially fulfillment in this world and in the world to come. The rules of the Torah are not temporary, man-made rules; these are universal laws that are also the covenant between a person and his creator, above the limitations of time, space and human logic. Statistics of the last few decades show that there is a direct relation between the social and economic status of a society and their faith and belief in the rules of “cause and effect” and the laws of The Ten Utterances.
3. The Journey towards Immortality
The Zohar is teaching us that one of the greatest gifts given on Mount Sinai was the gift of immortality. The sin of Adam brought to the world, the curse of death and the Mount Sinai Revelation is a symbol for the correction of Adam’s Sin. According to the Kabbalists, the spiritual consciousness of the holiday of Shavuot would bring humanity to the understanding, that death and aging are not a decree from heaven, but are curable conditions. It is known that happy and spiritual people get less sick and their ability to recuperate is much better than other people. According to many Kabbalists, we are facing the times in which human consciousness will internalize the message that true freedom is at hand, and freedom from the angel of death (known in Jewish tradition as the Resurrection of the Dead) will be a true possibility. It is not by coincidence that the anti-aging industry grew so much during the last few years.
How can we connect to all of this during Shavuot?
It is written in the Zohar and in the writings of Rabbi Isaac Luria that during the counting of the Omer we are building our ability to escape from slavery, to become free. As the holiday of Shavuot enters, at sundown, a very powerful metaphysical force descends to our world; this force is called in the language of the Kabbalists the “Sefira of Keter”. This force is what can connect us to all the concepts and understandings that have been mentioned above. We can compare it to a downloading of a very highly advanced computer program. The downloading continues throughout the night. The way to tap into this gift is by reading a text as per the instructions of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai and Rabbi Isaac Luria. This text is called the “Tikun of Shavuot” and it is made of selected verses from each Parasha (The Five Books of Moses are devided to more that 50 parts, called Parasha) in the Torah (three verses from the beginning and from the end of each Parasha), the prophets and from all the other books of the Tanakh, The Bible (all 24 of them). The reading continues with different texts from the Mishna, Sefer Tetsira (The Book of Formation) and the Zohar. The reading goes on through the whole night. In the morning, after the Morning Prayer, The Mount Sinai Revelation story is being read from the book ofExodus. The Zohar and The Midrash teach that the events of Mount Sinai Revelation can be called the wedding between The Holy Blessed Be He and the nation of Israel. Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai teaches us in the Zohar, that the all night study is like the preparation of the garments and adornments of the bride, and the ones who prepare the bride for the wedding, will be her best men during the great moment. The power of this night and the morning following is so great, says the Zohar, that whoever follows the above instructions is guaranteed that he won’t die that year and no harm can find him, physically or spiritually. Shavuot’s power is greater than that of Yom Kippur’s, since whoever was sentenced to death on Yom Kippur can reverse the decree on Shavuot. And this is how the holiday of Shavuot connects us to the dreams and hopes of humanity, since the dawn of its history, the hope for true love, unity, immortality and the freedom from The Angel of Death and from all pain and suffering.
For additional study on Shavuot and other holidays enter Live Kabbalah University
The holiday of Shavuot is a celebration of the ‘Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai’— when infinite Divine intelligence was revealed within the finite world of time and space.
When this intelligence first entered the world, it was an utterly simple seed: the entire Torah was encapsulated within theAlef, the first letter of the first word revealed at Sinai. This is called the klal of the Torah, its original ‘generality’ or unified state. From this original klal, the Torah began to flower into ‘many-ness’: the first word became the first sentence, known as the first “Commandment”, which expanded into two sentences and then ten. These ten sentences were then articulated as the 613 mitzvot, then the thousands of words in the five books of the Chumash, and the countless meanings, lessons, applications, complexities and details—‘pratim’—of Torah wisdom.
FROM KLAL TO PRATIM
The pattern of ‘one evolving into many’ is found throughout Creation: the klal, like a seed, sprouts and flowers as pratim—diverse expressions of the original package.
All organisms, including our own bodies, begin with a single cell. This cell divides innumerable times, differentiating according to innumerable needs and functions. As babies, our lives are very simple. As we mature, we begin to form more and more complex preferences and opinions. Similarly, the Jewish People began as one person— the first Jew-by-birth being Yitzchak—and eventually became a diverse group of tribes each with different characteristics and paths.
Creation itself began in utter simplicity: the Torah calls the first day of Creation “Yom Echad”, a ‘Day of Oneness’. On subsequent days, this ‘oneness’ began to unfold itself as ‘the many’. Even Divinity itself seems to have ‘evolved’ according to this pattern. Prior to the Tzim-tzum, the Divine Self-contraction, the Infinite Light existed without boundaries, gradations, or attributes. After the Tzim-tzum, vastly diverse vessels, worlds, and levels of Divinity came into being.
After Sinai, the People of Israel naturally began to fashion Torah-pratim, because it was too hard to understand or internalize the original klal*. Perhaps the experience of revelation was too overwhelming. Perhaps too much information was packaged in the seed-like words to make sense to the limited human mind. The Talmud, Tractate Shabbos 88a, discusses this, interpreting the verse, And they stood under the mount…: “This 2 teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an inverted casket, and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, good. If not, this will be your burial.’ This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah.” In other words, the direct revelation was imposed from above. One can’t fully internalize information without consciously choosing it or participating in it. Therefore the people had to become creative with the Torah, and apply it to the details of their lives.
PRATIM RETURNING TO THE KLAL
This is not the end of the story, however. The Talmud continues: “Said Raba, ‘Yet even so, they re-accepted it in the days of Achashveirosh, for it is written, They confirmed, and took upon themselves… They confirmed what they had accepted long before.’” In order to fully internalize the revelation, the community had to re-accept it many centuries later, during the events of the Purim story.
In the era of Purim, the Jewish People had fallen away from the practice of Torah, and the last generation of Prophecy had ended. They were living in exile, and finally, anti- semites had decided to wipe them out. This threat stimulated the Jews to band together. When, as one, they re-accepted the Torah, a great salvation occurred. Queen Ester asked that the story of this extraordinary salvation be written as a sacred text, that it be considered part of the Torah, and that a new Yom Tov be created. Her innovations were unprecedented, for what human being can create Divine words or commandments?
However, the power to co-create Divine wisdom comes from the Torah itself. The Jerusalem Talmud says that every chidush, every authentic innovation in Torah created by human beings throughout history, was actually given to Moshe at Sinai. This seems paradoxical: if it is an innovation, how can it be “given”? And if the insight was really given on Sinai originally, how is it a chidush? At Sinai, the Torah was revealed as a klal, but the p’ratim were not yet fully revealed. When we employ our creative process of innovation, and stay true to the original klal, our innovation can become an actual part of the Divine revelation. With Queen Ester, a new era had begun, in which human and Divine can co-create Torah.
Woven into the fabric of the pratim, the ‘many’, is the memory of a klal, an all-inclusive source. Everything and everyone yearns to return to its klal. We may long for our own childlike simplicity and innocence, or for wholeness, or to be included within the klal of a group identity. The deeper spiritual instinct behind this yearning is to embrace ourselves and others in non-dual awareness. Ultimately, we seek to bring all of Creation back with us to the One. The means to this ultimate accomplishment is the Divine intelligence transmitted through the Torah.
Tikkun, repair, is to return something to its original wholeness and unity. On Shavuos night, when we recite the Tikkun Layl Shavuos—the Kabbalistic compilation of verses from the Five Books, the Prophets, the Writings, and the seminal books of divine inspiration—we are not literally ‘studying’ Torah. Rather, we are sweeping through the texts, and gathering together the Torah’s pratim into a simple wholeness. We thus return the Torah to its source. By remaining awake all night, immersed in words of Torah, we become highly receptive, and thus able to internalize something of the klal. We re-live the experience of Sinai, each year bringing more of the klal down into the human mind and heart.
When Abraham first encountered the Divine, he heard the words, “I will make you into a great nation (Genesis 12:2).” Hundreds of years later, when his descendents stood at Sinai, they indeed became a singular nation, “like one person with one heart”. However, this unity didn’t erase the uniqueness of any individual: the Midrash says that at Sinai, each person heard the Divine voice (klal) speaking as his or her own unique, personal voice (pratim).
Similarly, while the first seed of Torah was prior to any differentiation, it did contain the potentiality of all Torah-details. After the process of differentiation, the pratim of Torah can be gathered into the klal through tikkun. However the pratim don’t then merge back into an undifferentiated state—this wholeness includes differentiation. ‘Oneness’ and ‘many-ness’,klal and pratim, are now simultaneous. This is the difference between the original klal of Sinai, and the klal created through the ingathering ofpratim.
Again, we can understand this pattern in our own lives. At first, when we were babies, we had no separate ego—everything was just an extension of our bodies. When we grew, we began to develop an individual ego, an identity separate from everyone else. In a state of spiritual maturity, however, our ego becomes transparent: ‘I exist, and so do you.’ As an example, in this phase of inclusivity, spouses are able to meet and co-create new babies.
REVELATION, INNOVATION, REVELATION
Now we can appreciate a diagram of the process of revelation. The Zohar teaches that there’s an underlying unity between the Divine Source, the Torah, and its practitioners—like three links in a chain.
When Hashem reveals to us Divine wisdom from above, at first we experience overwhelm. However, as we begin to internalize and integrate the experience, our love for the Divine awakens from below, and we seek to re-unite with Hashem. With gratitude we bring our innovations back to their Source, making a tikkun by enfolding our pratim into the klal.
In unity with our Source, our innovations are Hashem’s innovations, so-to-speak. Then the chain of revelation forms a continuous cycle: oneness flows into many-ness, many-ness into Oneness and back into many-ness. This is the flow of light that we can access on the holiday of Shavuos, and every day.
May we merit to be open to receive the Torah; “May You enlighten our eyes with Your Torah, and attach our hearts to Your mitzvot, and unite our hearts to be in love and in awe of Your name,” amein.
*Note: The sages hold various opinions about what the community actually heard, and were able to internalize, on Sinai. Eben Ezra says (commenting on Shemos, 20:1) that the people heard and understood each of the Ten Commandments. Ramban says all Ten Commandments were heard, and to some extent internalized, by the whole congregation. However, only the first two Commandments were clear to them, and Moshe had to repeat and explain the latter eight (see Shemos, 20:7). Rashi suggests (commenting on Shemos, 19:19), that only the first two Commandments were directly transmitted to the people, whereas the subsequent eight Commandments had to be transmitted through Moshe. Rambam says they heard the Divine voice and experienced the revelation, but couldn’t make any sense out of any of it (Morah, 2:33). Therefore, the majority of these major commentators indicate that the original klal of the Torah was not understood or internalized by the people.
From the website: ravkooktorah.org
|Psalm 90: Teach us to Count Our Days|
What value is there to our lives, which “stream by like a dream“? What significance can there be to mortal man, who sprouts like the grass in the morning, only to wither away by nightfall? What consequence can there be to a fleeting life of seventy years, “or with strength, eighty years,” compared to the eternity of God — “From the beginning of the world to its end, You are God” (90:2)? This psalm, a prayer of Moses, confronts these fundamental questions of life.
Toiling for the Other Side
The psalm’s first eleven verses are indeed discouraging, stressing both the futility of our transient existence, and God’s disappointment and anger at how we waste what little time we have. “For all our days pass away in Your fury; we waste our years like an utterance” (90:9). The word fury (in Hebrew, evrah) comes from the word eiver, meaning ‘the other side.’ This fury reflects a Divine frustration that we expend our efforts on inconsequential matters — toiling on ‘the other side.’ We work for fleeting goals that are the opposite of what our aspirations should be.
What does it mean that our years are wasted “like an utterance“? When our days are filled with deeds that counter ratzon Hashem, God’s intent for the universe, then the sum total of our years are just a single incoherent utterance. All our deeds over the years are like a cacophony of noise, the sound of our strivings and labors. But their combination contains no significance, no true meaning. The sounds do not form intelligible words and sentences. All our efforts were squandered in our labors for ‘the other side.’
We are sadly prone to delusions. “The days of our lives are seventy years… and their pride is toil and deception” (90:10). When compared to eternity, any finite length of time is of no value. If we know how to direct our ephemeral lives toward eternal goals, then our days may be uplifted and permeated with significance. But when human arrogance succeeds in blinding our vision, we can be misled into thinking that there is ultimate meaning to temporal, superficial life. Such a mistaken view can bring about terrible toil and deception, for there is no limit to man’s greed when chasing after a life dedicated to worthless goals.
But how can we know what is God’s purpose for the universe? If our minds could grasp God’s intention as to the goal of life, then we could use our intellectual powers to connect our lives to their inner purpose. But our knowledge and powers of reasoning are limited, while God’s purpose in creating the universe is boundless. We are not even aware of the extent of the disparity between our physical wants and the brilliant light of Divine will by which God governs His world.
How then can we know how to live a meaningful life? As the psalmist pleads, “Teach us how to count our days” (90:12) — reveal to us how we can make our days count!
Our actions are the product of limited understanding; we are constrained by our physical nature. Only the enlightenment of Divine knowledge, the gift of prophecy, can save us. When the light of Godly knowledge shines on all aspects of life, then our actions will have eternal import. Life’s details will take on true significance, and its overall direction will be governed by Divine wisdom.
Now we can understand why this psalm is “a prayer of Moses, the man of God.” This psalm is appropriate for a unique personality like Moses, whose overriding ambition was to cleave to the Life of all worlds. Only Moses, who demanded at Sinai, “Please show me Your ways,” truly grasped the connection between human existence andratzon Hashem. The master prophet understood that living a life of meaning requires prophetic knowledge of God’s will. “Teach us how to count our days, so that we will attain a heart of wisdom” (90:12). The phrase “we will attain” (in Hebrew, navi) could also be translated as ‘prophet’: “Teach us how to count our days — as a prophet [with] a heart of wisdom.”
Awareness of Divine Purpose in Our Lives
A superficial take on life is the result of unawareness of the Divine purpose in the universe. We may have difficulty sensing the ultimate purpose, but this meaning will be fully revealed in future generations. Thus we pray, “May Your work be revealed to Your servants,” but it is possible that “Your splendor will be revealed [only] to their children” (90:16) — in future generations.
The psalm concludes with a prayer that our actions should correspond to God’s intent for the universe. Then we will feel a holy joy and pleasantness in our lives.
|“May God’s pleasantness be upon us. Let the work of our hands be established for us; the work of our hands, let it be established.” (90:17)|
Why is the phrase “the work of our hands” repeated? It is not enough that our actions advance positive and significant goals. We pray that the actions themselves should have a sublime sweetness due to the Divine light infusing them, as we feel their inner significance. “May God’s pleasantness be upon us.”
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. II, pp. 69-74)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
Rabbi Isaac Luria and the Medieval Tu B’Shvat Seder
The Peri Eitz Hadar is divided into four sections, each of which describes how the specific foods of the ritual are meant to be eaten, and includes a number of biblical, rabbinic, and, in particular, kabbalistic and zoharic texts about the holiday. While the ritual is similar ot the way in which many of us observe a Tu B’Shvat Seder today, in terms of the foods eaten and the rituals recited, in many ways, the purpose of the ritual is not merely to eat certain certain foods and recite certain blessings, but to think about how what we eat and receive from trees bounds us up in God’s cosmic order. According to Miles Krassen,
“Implicit here is a notion of sacred cosmology, which is not limited to material existence. The kabbalists’ faith involves a hierarchy of worlds that are ontologically higher than the material world. These worlds are populated by angels and spiritual forces that span the ontological regions that separate humanity and the material world from God. Moreover, the forces in these worlds serve as conduits and sources for the divine energy that becomes manifest in nature and in Creation in general.” (3)
Beginning in the kabbalistic period, Tu B’Shvat became a symbol for how the complexity and beauty of nature can serve as a reminder of the cosmic plan God set forth for humanity. When the modern period, Tu B’Shvat’s cosmic significance was no longer about God’s cosmic plan, but about our plan for protecting the holy universe which we given to serve as its stewards.
Ellen Bernstein and the Modern Tu B’Shvat Seder
While the Tu B’Shvat Seder’s growth in the last several decades has been the result of a variety of factors, one of the most important figures in this growth has been Ellen Bernstein, who founded Shomrei Adamah as a national Jewish environmental organization in 1988 that became known for creating a massive community-wide Tu B’Shvat sedarim that attracted over 30,000 people.
On of the core aspects of Bernstein’s work was explaining how the observance of Tu B’Shvat intends to increase our ecological consciousness. Regarding the Tu B’Shvat Seder, Bernstein writes that just as the Passover Seder intends to make the process of slavery to freedom concrete,
“The intention of the Tu B’Shvat seder is also to make an idea concrete. The idea is this: God is the source of all life, so every tiny piece of creation – a raisin, a walnut, a peach – is infinitely valuable. This them speaks to human responsibility; since Nature is a grand web in which everything is connected to everything else, every small action that humans do reverberates all over the universe.” (4)
Bernstein sees Tu B’Shvat as reminding us about the significance of every aspect of God’s creation, from the tallest mountains to the smallest insect. As we mark this day on the Jewish calendar, we are reminded of the glory of God’s creation, and our responsibility to serve as stewards to God’s glorious works.
Furthermore, Bernstein sees Tu B’Shvat as fitting in the larger context of Judaism’s approach to environmental sustainability. She writes that, “While God is the source of our lives spiritually, nature is the source of our lives in the material plane, and being mindful of the godliness in everything is the first step of an ecological lifestyle.” (5) The more we become aware of the significance of God’s creation, the more our actions reflect an environmental consciousness most of us (this author included) sorely lack. Bernstein asserts that,“like ecology, whose concern first and foremost is the ecos, the house, Judaism is interested in preserving the home–our earthly home,” (6) and using Tu B’Shvat in this context allows provides us with a ritual reminder of that obligation every year.
Torah from Trees: Tu B’Shvat and Environmental Consciousness
In many ways, the medieval and modern interpretations of Tu B’Shvat allow us to think about the New Year for the trees in a new light, for now Tu B’Shvat is both about recognizing God’s cosmic plan set forth at creation, and our responsibility to serve as stewards for God’s creation. In this respect, we are asked to think about what is the “Torah” we can receive from the trees and all of the environment.
First, we can learn the lesson that the natural world contains divine sparks within it. Regarding this, the Zohar recounts the following story:
“Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Elazar, Rabbi Abba, and Rabbi Yossi were sitting under the trees in the valley of the Sea of Ginnosar (Kinneret). Rabbi Shimon said: “How beautiful (na’eh) is the shade with which these trees provide us; Let us crown them with words of Torah!”” (7)
The Zohar tells of a legend where some of the most rabbinic sages see God’s wisdom not only in study and ritual, but through the world around them. This sentiment is echoed in a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, who taught that, “It is a great principle that there are holy sparks in all there is in the world. Nothing is void of sparks, even trees and stones.” (8) By extension, if every component of the natural world contains God within it, that reality necessitates a type of care for the environment.
Second, just as the kabbalistic imagery of the Tu B’Shvat Seder reminds us that we exist in a larger cosmic framework, developing an environmental consciousness will also remind us that we our actions are not performed in isolation. Regarding this, the following Midrash is taught:
“Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai said: Three things are balanced together, and they are land, humanity, and rain.” Rabbi Levi b. Haytah said, “And all three of these are only three letters [in Hebrew], to teach you that if there is no land there’s no rain, and if there’s no rain there is no land, and without either of them, there’s no humanity.” (9)
We all exist in a cosmic balance, one that contains every living being, every natural creation, and every decision we make in terms of how to shape God’s creation. When we are faced with the question of how we must respond to the present environmental crisis facing our world, we must begin by remembering that no action towards this world is done in isolation, but affects the ecology of every living being.
Additionally, if the fundamental purpose of our existence is to guard and protect God’s creation, any type of destruction works against the mission that God laid out for humanity. The most famous manifestation of this concept is the mitzvah of lo tashhit, that one should refrain from wanton destruction. The mitzvah originates in Deuteronomy and states that,
“When you shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by forcing an ax against them; for you may eat of them, and you shall not cut them down. For is the tree of the field a man that it should besieged by you?” (10)
Ultimately, while the Torah’s original mitzvah is limited to a particular type of destruction of a particular type of tree, our rabbinic commentators ultimately see this mitzvah as reflecting an all-encompassing principle for how to treat God’s creation. TheKitzur Shulkhan Arukh states that, “Like a person needs to take care of his body so as to not lose it or spoil it or damage it…all who spoil anything that is fit for the enjoyment of humanity transgresses lo tashhit.” (11) Since we were placed on this earth to plant and to protect, Tu B’Shvat ought to be a reminder of the sin that is committed when we destroy that which was given to us.
Finally, the Torah we learn from trees reminds us that we need to consider our relationship to the environment, and think about how our actions that caused so much destruction are anathema to God’s vision for humanity. In a text cited in The Living Talmud, the medieval scholar Rabbi Jonah ibn Janach describes God’s vision in the following way:
“A man is held responsible for everything he receives in this world, and his children are responsible too…The fact is that nothing belongs to him, everything is the Lord’s, and whatever he received he received only on credit and the Lord will exact payment for it.”
“This may be compared to a person who entered a city and found no one there. He walked into the house and there found a table set with all kinds of food and drink. So he began to eat and drink thinking, “I deserve all of this, this is all mine, I shall with it what I please.” He didn’t even notice that the owners were watching him from the side! He will yet have to pay for everything he ate and drank, for he is in a spot from which he will not be able to escape.” (12)
We may have the ability to use and abuse God’s creation, but we have no right to do it, and God is watching us when we treat creation with disrespect. In a modern era in which environmental consciousness is too slowly becoming a priority for people around the world, Tu B’Shvat must represent not only a holiday of celebration, but a memorial of responsibility, where we remember that we learn trees from Torah, and now have the responsibility of treating our natural world with honor and respect.
(1) BT Rosh HaShanah 1a.