Saturday, April 28, 2007

strange flame

this is an article emailed to me this week; it is written by a jewish rabbi. it offers a perspective outside the norm for me. i hope it peacefully distrubs you as it did me.

The Ecstasy of Politics
Drugs: Strange Fire
By Simon Jacobson

Dear Rabbi,

Thank you for speaking to me the other day. Your encouraging words were truly helpful to me in my detox process. As I shared with you, I was one of those wayward teenagers who began using alcohol and drugs recreationally – as a social thing, bored and looking for fun. Then I became more and more dependent on them until I turned into a full blown addict. Procuring a drug became my daily and nightly obsession. I lied, stole money, betrayed people I loved and those that loved me – anything to get my high.

Even with my life completely out of control, I could not get out of my trap until I did some real irreversible damage which I could no longer ignore (as I shared with you, and would rather not put it into writing). Only then, when I hit “rock bottom,” did I began reaching for help.

After years, literally years of rehab, I am just beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

My question to you is this: Beyond the addictive, destructive and unhealthy effects of substance abuse, is there any thing wrong with achieving a high through foreign substances? In other words: if drugs and alcohol would not have any adverse effects would the Torah have a problem with their use to reach a spiritual high?

I know that this question may seem trivial compared to my dreadful experiences. It may even seem as if I am trying to find some justification for their use. I assure you that this not the case. But it does intrigue me to understand the nature of the high induced by drugs, and if it can play a role, when used properly (if that is even possible), in achieving transcendence?

I appreciate your help, your vote of confidence and above all your contagious hope that gives me strength to continue my fight.

David ,

Dear David,

Beyond the personal words of encouragement… I first hesitated to reply to your question, precisely because it seems completely out of place. You of all people know the horrible abyss of drug addiction. So why bring up even a slight consideration as to the possible benefits of an induced state of altered consciousness?

But then I reconsidered and realized that many others may have the same question. Additionally, it seems important to discuss not just the symptoms, but the actual roots of addiction.

You may be surprised to know that your question is directly addressed in no other place than the Bible itself. Yes, long before the plague of substance abuse in our times, we have a precedent that clarifies for us this topic, as well as many other issues around the timeless search for spiritual transcendence.

The opening of this week’s Torah portion concludes a mysterious event that took place three chapters back:

After the Sanctuary was finished, the Torah tells us that the two elder sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, “offered a strange fire before G-d, which He had not commanded.” The result: “A fire went out from G-d and consumed them, and they died before G-d.”

Now, in this week’s portion, following the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, G-d specifically commanded that their example should not be repeated: “And G-d spoke to Moses, after the death of Aaron’s two sons, who came close to G-d and died... Speak to Aaron your brother, that he not come at all times into the Holy... so that he not die... with this shall Aaron come into the holy place” (Leviticus 16:1-2), and the Torah continues with the conditions how to enter the Holy of Holies. Rashi explains that this command comes immediately after the statement of the death of Aaron’s sons, to warn him that his service of G-d should not be like that of his sons.

What lies behind Nadav and Avihu’s actions? Did they behave properly or not? On one hand, they were clearly great men who “came close to G-d;” on the other hand, “they died” because they “offered a strange fire before G-d, which He had not commanded.” And G-d is warning Aaron not to behave like them.

And what is the meaning of the “strange fire” that they offered?
Above all, if Aaron’s sons behaved wrongly why is it important to document their sad story, which presents them in a negative light?

The key to the story lies in the word “fire.”

Fire is passion. All passion comes from the fire of the soul, “the soul of man is the fire of G-d.” Like a flame, a soul always reaches upward, licking the air in its search for transcendence, only to be restrained by the wick grounding the flame to the earth. The soul’s fire wants to defy the confines of life; the free spirit wants to soar ever higher, always reaching for the heavens.
Like fire, the spirit ablaze cannot tolerate the mediocrity and monotony of the inanimate “wick” of materialism. Its passion knows no limits as it craves for the beyond.

But just like it can be the source of our greatest strength, the fire of the soul, like any fire, can also be the cause of great destruction.

Therein lays the story of Nadav and Avihu, two extraordinary souls:

When the holy Sanctuary was finished Aaron’s sons, deeply spiritual individuals, were drawn to enter the holiest sanctum on earth. They wanted to bask in the ecstasy of the Temple’s pure spirit.

Indeed, the behavior of Aaron’s two sons was not a sin; it was an act of great sanctification, as Moses tells Aaron immediately following the tragedy: “This is what G-d spoke, saying: 'I shall be sanctified by those who are close to Me.'” The sages explain: Moses said, “Aaron, my brother, I knew that the Sanctuary would be sanctified by those who were beloved and close to G-d. When G-d said 'I shall be sanctified by those close to Me,' I thought it referred to me or you; now I see that they – Nadav and Avihu – are greater then both of us.”

Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar (the Ohr Hachaim) explains, that their death was “by Divine 'kiss' like that experienced by the perfectly righteous. Only the righteous die when the Divine 'kiss' approaches them, while they died by their approaching it.... Although they sensed their own demise, this did not prevent them from drawing near [to G-d] in attachment, delight, delectability, fellowship, love, kiss and sweetness, to the point that their souls ceased from them.”

Nadav and Avihu’s death was a result of their profound yearning for a Divine experience. Their error was that they initiated it at their own discretion, and “selfishly” allowed the ecstasy to consume them. Their sin was not they got close to the Divine, but that they died doing so. In a sense, they wanted it too much, so much so that they rushed into the fire and got burned in the process. Their bodies could no longer contain their souls.

Thus the Torah says “when they came close to G-d and (with such passion that) they died.” Why does the Torah add “and they died” when it has already said, “after the death of the two sons of Aaron?” Although it is healthy to divest yourself of material concerns, at the moment when you stand poised at the ultimate ecstasy of the soul, you must turn again to the work that the soul must do to transform the physical existence. Nadav and Avihu achieved the ecstasy but not the return. This was their sin and the reason for their death. They “came close to G-d and they died.” They allowed their spiritual passion override their task to transform the world. They escaped beyond the world and beyond life itself.

If their motivation was pure, driven by the fiery passion of the soul, why then was it called a “strange fire?”
Because even if their intention was a good one, it ultimately was driven by their personal desire, albeit a spiritual desire, but still defined by their subjective drives. It may have begun for Divine reasons, but they allowed it to become their own personal interest, mounting to a point of intensity that it destroyed them, thus rendering the “fire” into a “strange fire,” one which “He had not commanded.” They entered on their own terms, at their own pace, at their own choosing – not on G-d’s terms.
And this was the reason that they actually ended up dying in the process. Because the same G-d that imbued us with passionate souls also commanded us to use the passion not to expire in ecstasy and escape the universe, no matter how appealing that choice may be, but to channel the passion downward and transform the material world in which we live into a Divine home. This is the purpose of the Temple: “build me a sanctuary (out of physical materials) and I will rest among you.”

Thus, the ultimate test of Aaron’s sons’ intentions was their inability to integrate the experience: Had they patiently and humbly entered on Divine terms, they would have been able to integrate the experience into their lives and return to sanctify their world. Integration would have confirmed that they were doing it not for themselves but for the cause, for G-d. The fact that they allowed themselves to be consumed with their own spiritual fire, demonstrated that it was their “own thing,” not G-d’s, a strange fire not commanded.

Now, in this week’s Torah portion, “after the death of Aaron’s sons,” Aaron is warned not to enter the Holy of Holies like his sons did. Rather, “with this shall Aaron enter the holy place” – in awe, obedience and self-abnegation. And in this way he would be able to “make atonement for himself and for his house” on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, and to say a prayer for the sustenance of Israel – acts of concern for the world.

In other words, the determining factor whether the soul’s fire will be a constructive or destructive force is dependent on the person’s motivation, how he begins his spiritual journey: If it’s a self indulgent experience, driven primarily by personal desire and interest, then you will not wish to turn back from your private ecstasy to the needs of the world, and the fire will inevitably consume you. If, however, it is driven by the selfless dedication and all-out surrender to the Divine, then within this ecstasy, the desire ultimately to return and sanctify the world will always be implicit, and the fire will lift you and your world to exalted heights.

In the famous Talmudic story of the “four that entered the garden” (a mystical experience) only Rabbi Akiva began the journey with the proper attitude: He “entered in peace and (therefore) came out in peace.” Because he entered with humility, in obedience to the Divine will and seeking to unite the higher and lower worlds, that is why he came out in peace. His intention of returning was implicit at the outset of his path to religious ecstasy. While the other three – Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma and Acher – all entered for other reasons, which determined how they emerged. Ben Azzai entered seeking ecstasy, not return; therefore he “looked and died.” Ben Zoma “looked and was stricken” (with madness). Acher “mutilated the shoots” (i.e., became an apostate).

We are told the story of Aaron’s sons in order to teach us an invaluable lesson about our own life experiences:

Each of us contains a powerful soul, with fire in its belly. Each of us will, at one point or another, encounter spiritual opportunities; passionate moments which will entice and light up our fires, craving transcendence – the need to get beyond the daily grind. Transcendence can take on many shapes: Spirituality, music, romance, travel, or sexuality, to name a few.
How you act in these times – when the flames of your soul are ablaze – will define the destiny of your life.

This explains why this week’s portion is known by the name “after” or “after the death.” Why name a Torah portion with an odd title – “after the death?” Why emphasize their tragic death?

The Torah is telling us that the “death” of Aaron’s two sons – both the death itself, and “after the death” – teaches us a vital lesson, actually a twofold lesson:

1) The search and need for transcendence, the craving and yearning for a spiritual high is healthy and a necessary ingredient in the human journey. All mans greatest achievements, his noblest acts, his deepest loves – draw from the soul’s passionate fire.

2) Yet, as with all powerful things, great care must be taken that the spiritual experience doesn’t “burn you up,” but is integrated in your life.

The fire of our souls, like any fire, can be the source of sustenance (healthy fire), or… an inferno (“strange fire”). The challenge is great. The choice is ours. Therein lies the twofold positive lesson from the children of Aaron, both from their death and “after the death:”

Their death teaches us how not to enter the Holy of Holies uninvited, not to enter at our initiative, at any time we so choose, not to enter as a result of our personal desire; “after the death” teaches us how to enter – “with this shall Aaron enter the holy place” – with utmost humility, with sensitivity and above all, total immersing and sublimating yourself into the experience.

Let us now return to the issue of drugs and alcohol. The essential problem with inducing a (spiritual) high through foreign substances is threefold: 1) It is driven by personal desire, and therefore 2) you have not earned your right of entry, and 3) it will not be integrated into daily life. It will be an escape.

And this is precisely the reason why foreign substances are addictive and take control of your life. As their name implies, they and the altered states of consciousness they induce are foreign substances – a “strange fire” – which don’t belong to you. For a brief, but temporary moment they have the power to transport you to another place. But you don’t belong there and you have not earned your way. Having not paid your fare, the “strange fire” will come back to collect the debt: It will take control of your life until it consumes you.

By contrast, when you earn your right – through the arduous, selfless work of ego-nullification – then the emerging spirituality carries you to great heights.

The formula goes like this: Superficial experiences are just that – experiences that are felt with your sensory tools. Real experiences – love, truth, health, happiness, sexuality, spirituality – are the exact opposite: As soon as you sense them, as soon as become aware of yourself, your needs and your search – you lose the ability to “own” the experience.

Why? Because a real experience is not an experience; it is state of being. Health for example is not a verb, but a noun. It has no sensation. It just is. The same with true love: Love can manifest itself in the senses and be expressed through the senses; but love itself is not an action, but a condition, as is truth and all other inside-out realities.

Spirituality, the spiritual high, is a permanent state of being that lies beneath the surface of existence. The “container” can be artificially forced open with a “strange fire” (foreign substances), but only temporarily. No single act can be done to access the spiritual truths within; no magic can open up your soul. When you selflessly dedicate your life to a higher cause, when you transcend your ego and strip away the forces of material self-interest that impedes access to your soul within, then the spiritual will emerge. The operative word is emerge. You don’t create it, you don’t induce it, you don’t import it; you eliminate the weeds and the flower emerges.
When you try to take control, you lose control. When you let go, you begin to gain control. When you try to contain it, you lose it. When you let it free, it becomes yours.

The soul’s fire manifests in many ways. Perhaps its deepest expression is in the fires of love and sexuality. Like a fire, burning desire can be the root of our noblest acts, but also the source of our most decadent behavior. Sexuality as selfish drive, divorced of intimacy, brings us to the lowest depths; infused with sanctity, intimacy, commitment and integration, it lifts us to the our greatest heights, infusing us with the power to create – allowing us to enter the “Holy of Holies” close to G-d.

But this is paradoxically possible only when our burning desires are not driven solely by human needs. When they are, the same force is rendered into a destructive addiction.

All addictions are a result of a deep void demanding attention. The desperate search for passion will look for an outlet. If the spiritual thirst is not quenched in a healthy way, it will demand nourishment at all costs – even if it means self destructive methods.

Addiction by its very nature means profound dependency. Why would someone get addicted to anything? Why would we need something that badly that we should become addicted to it? True, this may be due to the actual substance itself. Some substances are chemically addictive; they have the power to stimulate and ultimately alter certain chemicals in the brain that creates a compulsive craving and uncontrollable dependence on that substance. But that still doesn’t explain why a particular individual allows him or herself to become addicted. What need is this substance induced altered state serving; what void is it filling?

Addiction demonstrates two things at once: A deep hunger, but the hunger is being sated with a force outside of yourself, trapping you, killing you. The solution is not to eliminate the need (by becoming a passive bore), but to relieve its pangs by feeding it with the surrender to the Divine.

The ultimate relief of the soul’s profound tension is bittul – humble submission to the world of spirit. The greater the soul’s hunger and passion, the more its need for selflessness.

The story of Aaron’s sons teaches us that the spiritual state fills the healthy human need for transcendence. But this healthy need can be filled in unhealthy ways, served by unhealthy tools; the desire can be pure, while the objective of the desire may not be, turning the flame into a firetrap.

From Aaron’s sons we learn why the Torah utterly rejects any induced state of altered consciousness. Besides for the obvious issues of health, addiction and complying with the law – all fundamental concerns in the Torah – the mere fact that one turns to a “strange fire” to access spirituality (even if the experience was in some ways genuine) reflects the abovementioned distortions: A yearning driven by self-interest, unearned, escapist and non-integrative.

Even when using healthy and natural methods and means to achieve spiritual highs, the key lies in your actual attitude and drive: If transcendence becomes another extension of yourself, and is driven by your need or desire to get high, then even if you use healthy methods, ultimately transcendence will elude you. Only when you realize that you have to let go – let go of your drives, needs and even hunger – then the spiritual high will emerge.

And then, its will also be an integrative experience instead of an escape. It will open you up to spiritual freedom, instead of becoming an addictive monkey on your back.

Ecstasy that is driven by human politics is politics not ecstasy; ethereal perhaps, but still man-made. Spirituality on human terms not on spiritual terms.

The fire of the soul is our greatest asset. The passion that burns in the unfettered spirit can overcome any challenge. Yet, our success in harnessing these powerful flames is in direct proportion to our humility and selflessness in appreciating them. And carefully protecting and nurturing these flames.

The question we must always ask is twofold:

Are my fires burning?

What will I do with these fires – will I indulge myself in them or will I allow them to lift me and the world around me to greater places?

Friday, April 20, 2007

powerful words


--Evil talk kills three people: the speaker, the listener, and the one who is spoken of. (Talmud, Erachin 15a)

The speaker obviously commits a grave sin by speaking negatively of his fellow. The listener, too, is a partner to this evil. But why is the one who is spoken of affected by their deed? Are his negative traits worsened by the fact that they are spoken of?Indeed they are. A person may possess an evil trait or tendency, but his quintessential goodness, intrinsic to every soul, strives to control it, conquer it, and ultimately eradicate its negative expressions and redirect it as a positive force.

But when this evil is spoken of, it is made that much more manifest and real. By speaking negatively of the person's trait or deed, the evil-speakers are, in effect, defining it as such; with their words, they grant substance and validity to its negative potential.

But the same applies in the reverse: speaking favorably of another, accentuating his or her positive side, will aid him to realize himself in the manner that you have defined him. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

the garden and the voice

Two young hearts wandered into a life garden of rose bushes. Searching for the truest path through the garden, they walked around admiring the beauty of the roses. Reaching for the beauty, they pricked their palms on the long stems. Both of them sensing that they were meant to be caretakers in this garden together, found it difficult at times to handle the deep thorns of life. How would they work together? In the midst of their toil in the soil and the feeling of not knowing exactly how to tend to the delicate beauty around them, they listened for guidance.

One day in the middle of cuts and bruises they heard a voice. “Who are you?” they asked of the voice. With a tone as soft and beautiful as the roses, the voice said, “I was here when the garden was made and I will be here long after you are gone.” “What is your name?” they asked. With a gentle reply, she said, “I have been known by many different names, but you might recognize me best by Sophia.”

So with an open spirit to learn, the two young lovers walked hand in hand with Sophia through the garden. The melody of her voice sang, "It's through me, Lady Wisdom, that your life deepens, and the years of your life ripen."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

dreaming with leonardo

In my recent visits to the library I have been exploring the story of art. I find it interesting that throughout human history, man has been fascinated with attempting to capture the divine. From Rembrandt, Michelangelo, to DaVinci each artist has tried to recreate the beauty as seen by the eyes of their heart.

Watching the History Channel the other night, I found it very interesting the connection between artist, man, and God. I realize that unfortunately many times the creative works of man have been elevated above the Great Creator. Man, at times, has fallen in love with his own creative artwork. I guess that must have been a risk God was willing to risk when he lit the divine creative spark within our souls. Knowing that with the magnificent power of creativity we might seek to elevate ourselves, but at the same time through the hands of his artist the world might come to experience a divine language that transcends culture, time, and people.

I really don’t have a point here. It is really just a trail that somehow has caught my attention. I have talked to people about this dream I have that is somehow connected with a school of sorts that is centered on art. Maybe a charter school or something, and the main idea would be middle school, why middle school? That is the last group of folks that I would choose personally, but yet part of me knows how extremely difficult that part of the life journey is. Middle school is the transition from adolescence into adulthood but you’re not quite there yet. Not to mention all the hormones and social issues that arise during that period. I dreamt a year ago of a place called “mosaic learning.” I really didn’t know anything about it, but I found lots of things online about it. In fact I found one white paper on a school in England that made the break from traditional school patterns to do something special for this group of people.

Once again all of this is way beyond my comprehension or control. I don’t know anything about a school, education, or starting or running a whole school. And when would I find the time to do it. Nonetheless, the dream is still stirring in my heart. I can’t do anything to make this thing come to life, but I think that the True Teacher knows the dreams that linger in my heart.

Saint Francis of Assisi held to the opinion that we are all made with a divine creative spark. He took this position from the “imago dei” that is woven into the creation narrative in Genesis. He even went so far as to say that when we intentionally walk away from the creative person, our true identity, that we are rebelling against God. That is some pretty strong language. I don’t know if I can totally go all the way there, but it is a very compelling position.

I continue to dream that things can be different… I think Leonardo dreamed too.

Monday, April 09, 2007

living in the garden

"to live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle persistent efforts into a garden of solutude." henri nouwen

Thursday, April 05, 2007

being present in lovingkindness

Day 2 - Gevurah of Chesed: Discipline in Lovingkindness

"Healthy love must always include an element of discipline and discernment; a degree of distance and respect for another’s boundaries; an assessment of another’s capacity to contain your love. Love must be tempered and directed properly. Ask a parent who, in the name of love, has spoiled a child; or someone who suffocates a spouse with love and doesn't allow them any personal space."
by Rabbi Simon Jacobson

what does it mean for me to respect my wife's boundaries? maybe it means that i should not be like an army general with marching orders to divide and conquer. maybe i should not be authoritarian but rather diplomatic and sensitive when it comes to her borders of sensitive issues. how to be tempered and direct, this is a very interesting idea.

most of the time when engaged in sensitive issues with my wife, i have a tendency to retreat, to withdraw from conflict. i was reminded of this recently when watching "shalom in the home" on tlc. the husband of the family that the rabbi was visiting was retreating when any emotional turmoil arose. in addition to his retreat, the husband also refrained from any heart level engagement with any of the family. he was brought up in an environment of "tough love" and therefore had a very hard time being open and vulnerable with those he loved.

i recognized and related to the feeling of wanting to retreat when i saw the husband do it in the show. but the rabbi explained to the husband that by leaving the situation and going out to the garage, he was sending a message to his family that he cared more about working on his classic mustang than he did about working on his family. wow, the guy was completely oblivious to that perception.
this spoke to me about my level of connection with my wife and kids. do i regularly take time to explain my feelings or to ask for their true feelings about life? do i take time to share the thoughts that are wrestling in my head? do i seize moments when it is obvious that one of them are troubled, or do i just wish it all away hoping that it will work itself out? these are serious questions that stare me in the face and demand attention. discipline can mean the regular practice of being present in lovingkindness.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

crazy life poet

here is my first attempt at a very large scale piece of wood. this is a backdrop for a teen poetry slam at our local library this month. i am really excited to bring this as my contribution. i have thoroughly enjoyed learning this process of painting a brick wall and then painting the graphic over it. i haven't used spray paint as a medium before but it really is fun. it kills your fingers and forearms after a couple of hours though. anyway,

masking off the board with painters tape and then painting really made for a great finish for the wall. funny though i was telling a friend that yesterday i was helping a local school restore a mural on their building that had been vandalized with graffiti. and then for the next two days i worked on a back drop painting my own graffiti. sometimes life is such a paradox.

this friday we are going to a first friday art gallery night. there is a vibrant local art community that i am looking forward to checking out. the event is held at railroad square art park. it will be a date night for darla and i as the kids are going to be at grandma's for the night, yea!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

what's in it for me?

day one - Chesed of Chesed:

"LovingKindness in Lovingkindness. Love is the single most powerful and necessary component in life. It is both giving and receiving. Love allows us to reach above and beyond ourselves, to experience another person and to allow that person to experience us. It is the tool by which we learn to experience the highest reality – God.
Examine the love aspect of your love. Ask yourself:

What is my capacity to love another person?

Do I have problems with giving?

Am I stingy or selfish?

Is it difficult for me to let someone else into my life?

Am I afraid of my vulnerability, of opening up and getting hurt?"
questions posed by Simon Jacobson

i think the question for me is, can i give without wanting a "thank you" or "boy, you did a great job?" those things are fine by themselves, but sometimes it seems like my motivations are driven by the need to have those "atta-boys." i think this year God has been working with me in this area. giving, wanting nothing else in return, that is a character of Yeshua. when i think about it, giving in any other way seems so burdensome and heavy. this word "chesed" brings a new dimension to the word freedom; freedom to give out of knowing who i am, not dependent on external forces or compliments.

Monday, April 02, 2007

crummy cleaning time

Here are the seven areas on the emotional map that i mentioned yesterday in my blog:

Emotion 1 - Chessed is lovingkindness, benevolence—anything that’s included within the family of love, and the warmth and nurturing that comes with love. It’s a feeling in our hearts. It’s our first and most fundamental emotion.

Emotion 2 - is Gevurah the alter-ego to love, and that is justice, discipline, restraint, awe. If love is giving and flowing, there’s another emotion which is withdrawing, focusing, disciplining, channeling.

Emotion 3 - is Tiferet. Tiferet is translated as beauty, harmony and compassion. It’s somewhat of a synthesis of the first two, but it’s beyond that: tiferet has its own power, the power of compassion that goes far beyond love. You can have love for those who are close to you, those whom you appreciate. Compassion is for strangers and people who may not deserve it: mercy, or in Hebrew and Yiddish, rachmanut.

Emotion 4 - is Netzach. Netzach literally means victory, but the emotion involved is endurance, fortitude, ambition. Netzach is the driving force behind every ambition.

Emotion 5 - is Hod, and that translates into humility, splendor, and the emotion of humility, yielding. If the alter-ego of gevurah is chessed, where chessed is a flowing love and gevurah is the channeling, the measuring of it, then if netzach is ambition and drive and fortitude, hod is humility and yielding that balances the ambitions within us.

Emotion 6 – is Yesod. Yesod literally means foundation but it’s an emotion called bonding. When you bond with something it’s not just that you’re experiencing it, you actually bond with it.

Emotion 7 - is Malchut. Literally it means nobility and kingship, but on the emotional spectrum, it’s sovereignty, leadership, the independence of a human being, the feeling that we are sovereign, that we have something to contribute, something unique about us.

“Freedom means the liberation from dependency on matters or forces that are external to our true selves and goals. True freedom allows the self to shine forth unhindered.” by Yaakov Paley
The escape hatch

“You're trapped in your marriage. You've said certain things, she's said things, both quite unforgivable, so now you're imprisoned in this cube of tense silence you used to call "home" and the only place to go from here is down. Yes, there is a way out -- just yesterday there was a moment, a fleeting opportunity for reconciliation. But you were too big to squeeze through.

You're trapped in debt. There's the house redo you just had to do, the car you absolutely had to have, the vacation you simply wanted (you deserve something for yourself, too). The bills are closing in, and the only place to go from here is down. Yes, there's a small opening, through which a tiny voice inside you sometimes beckons, "You don't really need this." But you've gotten too big to squeeze through.

You're trapped in your life. Whichever way you turn, you encounter walls -- unshakable habits, antagonistic colleagues, elusive desires. The only direction that seems not to be closed to you is down -- the direction leading deeper into the quagmire.

Sometimes, the weather clears enough for you to see the escape hatch set high up in the wall -- the way out to freedom. But it's so small. Actually, it's not so much that it's small as that you need to make yourself small -- veritably flatten yourself -- to fit through.” by Yanki Tauber

arrogant bread -

“The characteristic of leavened dough (Chametz) is that it rises and swells, symbolizing pride and boastfulness. A Matzah, on the other hand, is thin and flat, suggesting meekness and humility. Passover teaches us that Chametz – arrogance – is the very antithesis of the ideal of Torah.” author unkown

Spring cleaning –

“Ready or not, here it comes... Once again it is time for the annual pre-Passover house-cleaning. It is time to move the furniture and scrub the chairs, line the counters and scour the dinette; perhaps, perhaps, we will unearth a stale cookie or come across a half-eaten piece of licorice which the baby stowed behind the couch.”

Growing up cleaning my house was usually reserved to times when special quest were coming to visit. With that understanding, I never understood “spring cleaning.” Why clean up when nobody was coming to visit? Maybe my understanding of cleaning is being redefined. Looking for crumbs in the cushions and corners is about something deeper. For thousands of years this physical act of “spring cleaning” is a symbol that speaks to a spiritual reality. Where have I allowed myself to become egotistical? Have I literally become puffed up?

Setting out to find areas where I have become full of myself is not a fun project. I think however that it has huge implications on how I love my neighbor. Becoming “flat” is not so easy. Flat sounds like humility to me. No wonder people for generations have tried to abstain from eating bread filled with air during this time. The act of abstinence is not the point, it is “remembering” that the Creator acted on our behalf and liberated us from our enslavement. We didn’t’ break out of Egypt by our own might!

So maybe part of my captivity is my ego, and humility shapes my realization of true freedom deep within.

“The characteristic of leavened dough (Chametz) is that it rises and swells, symbolizing pride and boastfulness. A Matzah, on the other hand, is thin and flat, suggesting meekness and humility. Passover teaches us that Chametz – arrogance – is the very antithesis of the ideal of Torah.”

Chametz -- grain that has fermented and bloated -- represents that swelling of ego that enslaves the soul more than any external prison. The flat, unpretentious matzah represents the humility, self-effacement and commitment that are the ultimate liberators of the human spirit.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that the liberating quality of matzah is also shown in the forms of the Hebrew letters that spell the words "chametz" and "matzah". The spelling of these two words are very similar (just as a piece of bread and a piece of matzah are made of the same basic ingredients) -- chametz is spelled chet, mem, tzadi; matzah is spelled mem, tzadi, hei. So the only difference is the difference between the chet and the hei -- which, as the illustration above shows, is also slight. Both the chet and the hei have the form of a three sided enclosure, open at the bottom; the difference being that the hei has a small "escape hatch" near the top of its left side.

Which is all the difference in the world.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

who are you to begin such a journey?

traveling requires a map. a map is made by those who have braved the unknown and carved out a way. the idea behind this journey is not destinational, rather it is experiential; it is to experience what others have gone through deep inside their being. where does this inner trek begin?

The beginning of all journeys is separation. You’ve got to leave somewhere to go somewhere else. It is also the first step towards freedom: You ignore the voice inside that mocks you, saying, “Who are you to begin such a journey?” You just get up and walk out.

landmarks from the patriarchs - genesis 12 (abram leaves), exodus 12 (hebrew people leave egypt). sometimes leaving what you have always known is very difficult. we don't realize what impact local routines and material surroundings have on our beings, until we think about moving on without them. anxiety can quickly come rushing in, followed closely by panic, climaxing in fear. so what are we to do when these emotions come flooding our safe little predictable world? we must begin to dismantle these distorted emotions. this redefining process could be what is meant by the word "kadesh."

This is the first meaning of the word, “Kadesh” -- to transcend the mundane world. Then comes the second meaning: Once you’ve set yourself free from your material worries, you can return and sanctify them. That is when true spiritual freedom begins, when you introduce a deeply significant meaning into all those things you do.

the sages tells us that there are seven basic emotions that make up the spectrum of human experience. at the root of all forms of enslavement, is a distortion of these emotions. what does it look like to travel deep into these areas of the soul? could there be a perfect journey - perfect in the sense of completeness not free from error? seven weeks of seven days - 49 - this is the scope of the ancient spiritual path that begins at Passover.