Twelve of us gathered this beautiful morning, with a cool and gentle breeze, and the sound of bubbling water nearby. Check-ins related to various struggles, challenges, aches, pains, losses – appropriate, since we find ourselves here in the month of Av, only 3 days from the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av, the day of the destruction of the first temple, and the second temple, and the start of World War I. This is the moon of Issachar, whose totem the donkey teaches how to bear burdens well, how to move into aging-saging as elders, whose flag of the black-purple night sky illuminated by sun and moon reminds us of the vastness of all that we call this life. Issachar’s donkey teaches it is not just about the burdens we bear, but about the reasons we bear them. It is not just the doing, but the intention of the doing. Or as the Rebbe of Kotsk teaches: The prohibition of idolatry includes the prohibition against making idols out of the mitzvot. We should never imagine that the chief purpose of a mitzvah is its outer form (i.e., the doing), rather it is the inward meaning (i.e., the devotion with which it is done).
From R. Kalman Shapira’s “Conscious Community”:
“Therefore, one goal of our work is going to be to fortify and expand our powers of concentration so that we can sense our connection to God more consistently”
“We have to begin by using the tool we have, namely, awareness. That is why we have chosen the name Conscious Community: our name captures our essence. We work to amplify and extend our consciousness so that our spiritual perception is not a fleeting spark but a sustained awareness. We want this precious sensibility to be so predominant in us that our bodily powers and sense come under its sway, so that our spirit is the most obvious force in us. Is every Jew suddenly physically pure when the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah or during Yom Kippur services? So we see that consciousness can operate even in a body that is not elevated and clear. Why would we not use this powerful tool?”
We started by retracing our steps from last time, beginning with:
Exodus 19:3: “So shall you say to the House of Jacob and relate to the children of Israel”
This is the simultaneous lower and higher consciousness that R. Shapira speaks to, that is embodied in the image of Jacob’s ladder with the angels ascending and descending. This is perhaps the central consciousness of Judaism: to be living at once in both worlds, in both levels of consciousness: the mundane and the holy, the imminent and the transcendant. It is embodied in the names Yaakov and Israel – we are the people who grab at the heel in our God-wrestling. It is exemplified in the question: when you turn on your computer, how are you serving the higher purpose? It is held in the stories of Hanoch, great mystic of Salem (before it was Jerusalem), who lived as a cobbler with the consciousness that attaching sole to upper leather was the equivalent of bringing together the upper and lower worlds. It was with this consciousness that he travelled into the Upper Realms where he was transmuted into Metatron, the greatest of all angelic beings.
Exodus 19:5: IF you listen well to Me (Hebrew: Im shamoah tish’m’ooh) . . .
you shall be to me a treasure from all the nations
Exodus 19:6: You shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation
Hebrew grammar alerts us, whenever 2 forms of a single verb follow immediately one after the other, to pay attention to what is being said. This is an emphasis, like an underline or bold font in the text of Torah. So here, “Listen, Listen!” is saying, “Listen, then listen again”. Or perhaps, listen and be listened to. The line goes on to say if you listen to my voice and guard my covenant you will be a treasure from all the peoples, a kingdom of ministers/priests, a holy nation. These lines elicited spirited discussion for the rest of the meeting on the concepts of a punishing God vs consequences of the innate spiritual laws of the universe, chosen-ness, what it means to be a priest, and a treasure. Some of the comments:
· The “If” sounds like the conditional love of a scolding parent
· I hear a loving Goddess asking us to accept responsibility, giving instructions (the Hebrew word Im, meaning “if”, is from the root of “mother”)
· Priest = transmit the word of God to the people, like the role of modern rabbi
· Discomfort with concept that not all cultures are equal
· This is our Torah, and our relationship to the Holy One – other peoples have their particular, treasured relationships
· A central challenge of our time is the struggle of clan vs species
· The Torah IS about punishments, it is offensive – if you’re not offended, you’re not paying attention!
· I hate religion!
· We need to wrestle with the negative parts of Torah. Listen is the central commandment
· This is the Jewish concept of karma: this is how the universe works, if you don’t go with it there simply are consequences
· A fish in water is not thirsty – swim in it. If you leave the water, what do you expect will happen? (from Sufi teaching)
· Listen, then the group will experience – like a small Vision Quest
· What is the role of surrendering and just doing, versus understanding the meaning of all that we do?
· Na’ahseh v’ Nishmah – we will do and we will listen – even though we may need to humbly surrender, we still need to always be listening for the deep meaning and understanding that may follow later.
· It’s not about “if” – we are in free choice all the time. It’s hard to always access being a divine channel
· Segulah – means purple, be with your own royalty
· Reading Torah in PaRDeS (orchard) consciousness: P’shat = simple meaning; Remez = a hint that there is something deeper; Drash = the symbolic or metaphoric meaning; Sod = the hidden, mystical meaning
We are studying this year to learn from the teachings of our sacred tradition how to build conscious community. We have brought in the words of R. Shapira, miraculously coming to us through the fires and the rubble of the Holocaust, to add some flavor to the teachings of Torah that we study. In future months, we plan to cover parts of the book of BaMidbar (Numbers) which details the division into the tribes in the wilderness, how they carried individual pieces of the community purpose, how their tasks synergized into a whole, how our ancestors created and maintained sacred community. Though Passover Village has touched on these issues repeatedly in the past, we are now at a different level in the spiral path of our joint experience of reclaiming our aboriginal, Earth-based Hebrew consciousness. So, as the Nachash (snake) of Eden spiraled around the Tree of Life to offer the healing fruit to Adam and Eve that they might go out from the garden in the spiritual realms and create Eden in physical reality, we spiral to the next level of our understanding of our individual and communal journeys.
We stopped in our discussion this week, as we did last time, on the verge of the description of the revelation at Sinai and the receiving of the Ten Utterances (or 10 Words, or 10 Things, if you prefer – the Hebrew word D’varim clearly does not translate as “Commandments”, which is a Christianization of our tradition). It seems that it is not an easy thing to approach Sinai, even more than 3000 years removed. Our tradition tells us that every Jewish soul that ever was or will be was present at Sinai, that therefore each one of us was present to hear those words together. The fact that we all heard the same thing (or did we?), at the same time, was the focal point of the formation of our sacred community in the Wilderness, as it is that which we could coalesce around as a shared mission and understanding of purpose, and that which would guide the structures and activities of our community.
So, we closed with the next verse of Torah, to lead our imaginations forward until the next time we meet:
Exodus 19:7: Moses came and summoned the elders of the people, and put before them all these words that Hashem had instructed him.
Next gathering: Saturday, September 3
- Location to be determined
- Leadership Council will meet: 9-10
- Torah Study: 10-12
- Creative art workshop 12-3 (offered to those who wish to further the understanding of what we cover in Torah study through creative practice)