Ravens and Doves

 “Ravens and Doves”

December 6, 2014

“This too, opposite the other, the Creator (Elohim) made”  Kohelet (Ecclisastes) 7:14

We met in the Valley again to continue our exploration of animals in the Hebrew tradition.  We picked up where we left off in the animal powers chapter in “Magic of the Ordinary”. 

“A raven shouted to him “Turn back! Turn back!”  (Babylonian Talmud Gitin 54a)
The passage speaks to the crow or raven as “contrary”, as in if a raven tells you to do something, you should do the opposite.  Except of course, when it is telling you the truth, as was confirmed in this case by the dove.  Personal experiences with raven and crow: crows are grating, can see how they represent go the other way; Crows in their nest make different sounds depending on their intention – e.g. when they encourage their babies vs warn of danger; crows/ravens are intelligent, purposeful; I try to talk to birds, “caw” “caw” – they either treat me as an intruder, or completely ignore me.  This led to a general discussion of how can humans learn the language of the birds and other animals.  It must involve quiet and contemplation, something akin to indigenous healers who will sit at the foot of a plant to hear its song and its instructions on how to use it for healing.  There are stories of Jewish mystics through the ages who knew how to speak to animals.  Is this something we can relearn?

“The ravens brought him bread and meat every morning . . . “  Kings I:17:1-6
The opening into the discussion of raven brought to mind the story of Elijah, who escapes from King Ahav, and hides out in a wadi east of the Jordan, where YHVH has commanded the ravens to feed him, which they do.  So perhaps the raven is the familiar of the Hebrew mystic/prophet, nourishing him from the other worlds?    Why does the text tell us it is East of the Jordan?  East is the direction of new beginnings, and this is the beginning of Elijah’s story in Tanach, which will lead to teachings that will last  for the ages from the story of his life: his vision quest on Mt. Sinai, his ascent to Heaven, and his role, stated each year in the Passover seder, as harbinger of the Moshiach age.

Word play:
  • ·       Raven – Orev (ayin-resh-vet)
  • ·       Evening  = ayin (aleph-resh-vet)
  • ·       Arab – Aravi (ayin-resh-vet-yud)
  • ·       Hebrew = Ivri (ayin-vet-resh-yud, from avar (to cross over, ayin-vet-resh)

So each of these words has equivalence, either directly from the 3-letter root Ay-R-V, or through the equivalent value of the gematria (numerical value of the letters 70+2+200 = 272 = 11 = 2 = the principle of duality, or opposites, or, contrary).  So the contrary raven speaks to the blending of opposites (as in erev, evening, place where day blends to night;  similarly from the same root is the word for West, Ma’a’rav, the place of blending and healing, where the sun sinks and brings on the night, where the opposites are blended and integrated and made whole (i.e. healed).  And opposite peoples, Aravim and Ivrim, can the raven hold a secret that will help us recognize our sameness?  Is the Erev, the evening, the time of the raven, the time to paradoxically both distinguish and blend? 
Frustration, anger: “Animals are so much better than humans, I am sick over the news of the lack of indictments for the killing of young blacks by white police.  Animals don’t kill for politics or hatred or prejudice, or anything other than natural balance.”  Crows have the ability to recognize human faces, as the experiments with the upside-down Nixon mask demonstrated.  Humans seem to have an inability to see the humanity of other humans not like us – unable to recognize other races.  This is seen in the story of how the Israelites rejoiced at the drowning of the pursuing Egyptians, until they were admonished by the Holy One: “how can you rejoice when my children are dying?”

Other comments on ravens, doves, and other birds of Tanach
  • ·       Dove: truth-teller, dove of Noah.  Dove may be the earthly counterpart to the more spirit-world raven.  The raven knows where the food and water are (Elijah story) – that’s an important animal!
  • ·       Vulture: the Ayit that reconciled the ritual of the pieces, that Abraham performed in Genesis 15:9-11.  Also the Nesher (usually translated as “eagle”).  The vulture is a purifying machine, a “death eater” that never itself takes a life.
  • ·       From “Medicine Cards”, Native American associations with crow:  First hand order of right and wrong.  Omen of change.  Lives in the void.

·       Study of the animal realm goes right to the heart of the question of “what does it mean to be indigenous?”  It means to be “of the land”, and the understanding of the animal spirits and our relation to them goes right to the meat of that concept.

They said “you did not tithe your harvest to the poor”.  Jerusalem Talmud, D’mai I:3
An odd story of mice infesting the storehouses of grain until Rabbi Pinhas ben Ya’ir listens to them and they tell him in their chirpy language that it is for the above reason.  The mice, if we could listen and understand, tell us of the rightness, or not, of our relation to earth and the instructions from Torah of how to live a life of proper balance and harmony.  Talking mice?  There are many instances of talking animals (e.g. the donkey of Balaam), stones, trees in the Jewish texts, prompting the exclamation, “they should teach us that in Hebrew school! . . . so we could see what mouse has to say!”  There is a perfection and simplicity in nature that we humans lack.  Language adds something to humans, leads to meaning, a way to touch each other.  But modern people can learn and be taught to listen differently, to hear what the birds have to say when we’re out on silent spiritual quests, if we can reconnect again with Adamah, earth, in ancient ways.

The concept of listening, deeply listening, is core to the Hebrew way of viewing existence.  Shemah Yisrael – listen you who wrestles with Spirit – YHVH Eloheinu – the Infinite One is the Creator who encompasses all diversity – YHVH Echad - that Diversity IS Unity.  And: Im shamoah tish’ma’ooh – if you will listen, REALLY listen, to all the teachings that tell you how to be in right relation to Spirit and Earth, then the rains will fall, and the fields will produce, and all will eat and be satisfied.  Ki Tov – it is good, it is sufficient.  Our tradition teaches us animism, that all is alive – there is an angel associated with each blade of grass! – just as all earth-based traditions. 

From the perspective of the indigenous Hebrew tradition, it is clear that the One God is not a separate Being, as the misdirection of “Judeo-Christian” history has led us to believe, but rather the Shemah is meant to teach us that the One IS the Diversity. 

Next gathering:
Saturday, December 20, all day retreat.  Times and location to be announced.

Saturday, January 10 – a special event;  
·       10 AM – noon: Torah study
·       Noon: Pot luck lunch

·       ~1 – 3: Screening of “Aluna” – the teachings and warnings of the Kogi people, indigenous to the mountains of coastal Colombia, who have descended after millennia of maintaining their separateness, to tell us (their “younger brothers”) of the impending destruction of the Earth Mother that Western mind is perpetrating.  This is a profound film with a profound message for our times.

Hyenas, and lions, and leopards, oh my

November 1, 2014

“Hyenas, and lions, and leopards, oh my!”

We gathered in the Valley, the morning after the first blessing rain of the season.  May the rains continue and bring relief to our parched land and trees and living beings.

 Placing the copper plate and Circle of Friends in the center, with objects to the 4 directions, we began.  Check-ins included fear and danger, joy and joining, and dreams of swirling tarantulas and a dead squirrel.  We heard of a beloved pet’s medical journey seemingly back from being sick and dying, and the new cat, Kippur, hung out with us, going to and fro as we settled into study of the animal powers chapter in “Magic of the Ordinary”. 

The chapter opens with an odd telling of a discussion in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Metzia 24a) describing that if an object is taken by a lion, hyena, bear, or leopard, it is to be considered lost to the owner, and even if someone recovers it, it does not get returned to the owner and remains in the finders’ hands.  This is not true of all animals.  For instance, if something is taken by a dog, or donkey, and is recovered, it must be returned to its owner.  So what is it about these animals?  It was suggested they are wild, carnivores, and that the item is recovered only through the intermediatry of these fierce animals.  The animal power transforms the property, and that property law could be used to explain the nature of animals.  Or by American law, the concept of abandoned property may be similar to that invoked here, whereby if one of these animals grabs your property it can be imagined to be abandoned to that animal being.  Or perhaps the person grabbing it from the jaws of one of these animals deserves to be rewarded for his courageous efforts. 

  • ·       Lion: new beginnings in the East.  The lion taking the object thus transforms it to a new way of being, alchemically.  We are forced to let go of attachment to allow for the new beginning.
  • ·       Hyena – here we surrender the lifeless
  • ·       Bear – grabs and stores up energy for the winter hibernation
  • ·       Panther – the alchemical energy of suddenness, pouncing at the time that is right for it.

The discussion turned to the personal and the real, as we wondered how this teaching relates to the story one of our members told in check-in.  Was it hyena energy, or leopard, that had caused the distress?  Or neither?  Perhaps this was rabid dog energy, not to be at all confused with what we were looking at today. 

El Nah Rafah Nah Lah . . . R’fuah Sh’lay’mah
Deep grief entered the room and called for healing chants and prayers.  Our PV torah studies seem to have shifted from simple study together to a time when we gather to share our lives, our griefs, our joys, our challenges, in community with those who over the years we have begun to know so well, and care about so deeply.

Next gathering: Saturday, December 6, 10 AM. 
Save the Date: Saturday, December 20 – plan all day gathering, study, hike, Chanukah celebration

All the beasts will teach you . . .

Sept 27, 2014
All the beasts will teach you . . . 

For our annual Shabbat Shuvah hike, we met in the field at entrance to Temescal Canyon Park.  Three 4-leggeds hiked with us, a bit rambunctious in their greetings to each other, and, at times later in the day.  Still, it was good to have their energy with us as we combined our usual Shabbat Shuvah reflections with our ongoing inquiry into the understanding of the animal beings within and around us.
Check-ins were held under an expansive oak tree in a clearing a bit of a hike into the canyon.  Medical and health issues predominated, and it was clear a healing circle was called for, and was held at the end of the gathering.

To give us a bit of focus on our work with the animals, we read a few paragraphs from Chapter 3 of Reb Gershon Winkler’s book, “Magic of the Ordinary”.  In this chapter he expands on his discussion on the Hebrew Medicine wheel and the 4 Winds (4 Directions), naming and referencing primary texts to illucidate the meaning of the animals that are found in each of the directions.

Ezekiel 10:1: The vision of the chariot includes the verse which aligns each of 4 animals with a primary direction.  Thus, Lion to the East, Human to the South, Buffalo (water buffalo or ox) to the West, and Eagle to the North.

Job 12:7  “All the beasts will teach you . . .  This verse is aligned with Native American and other indigenous traditions that understand the way of the animals to be a primary teaching for human beings to know how to live in right relation to the earth and each other and all relations.  Indeed, there are Hebrew teachings that speak even more overtly to this point:   ADD        The point was made that to really learn from the animals, one must be amongst them, must be quiet and must listen . . . if one does so in these times one might become aware of them yelling to us about climate change.

Buffalo/ox/bull – (Hebrew: Shor)
Deut 33:17:
The Bull/Ox/Buffalo is identified as the keeper of the West, the place of merging and blending, where day blends into night, life into death, the place of healing, the archangel Raphael (healer of God).  The bull is a herd animal, a merger   In Moses’ blessing of Joseph, he speaks of the majesty of the ox, one of its major qualities.  Though the English translation using the word “gore” in speaking of the ox raises images of violence, the Hebrew and the contextual meaning of the full verse speaks more of making an opening, bringning together, weaving, and speaks of the buffalo in terms of majesty (Hadar, which is the energy of the sephirah Hod), nobility (the word for horn, keren, may be used to signify crown), strength, power, and may have to do with protection of the people.  The verse speaks of the Karnei r’eim – the horns of an oryx, a large antelope and the totem of the tribe of Menashe and therefore related to the ox/buffalo (the totem of Ephraim).  A dream image shared: a large male oryx, a protector at the edge of his herd, facing down a lion, each animal recognizing the power of the other and coming to a nonviolent, respectful relationship with each other.   

Isn’t the bull associated with the Hebrew letter Aleph, someone asked?  No, that’s the alephant, another answered.  And we moved on. 

Lion (Hebrew: Aryeh)
Hosea 13:7.  I am become like a lion to them 
Though the verse literally refers to devouring the people around the time of the exile, metaphorically the energy of lion (Aryeh) may help us to awake from our stupor to devour our delusions, like a lion.  Lion holds sthe East, the place of new beginnings, where the sun rises and we move forward on new adventures and paths. 

Eagle (Hebrew: Nesher)

Eagle is the keeper of the North, the place of mystery, hiddenness.  The eagle is a messenger, and brings us to spirit, as in the verse from Parashat Yitro (Exodus    ): “And I carried/will carry you on the wings of eagles, and brought/will bring you to me”.  Eagle is also referred to in Hebrew tradition as protector, especially the female eagle, as in protection under eagles’ wings, or the commentary from Rashi that the mother eagle carries her young on her back to protect them from arrows being shot from below (though this seems not an actual behavior of eagles, and may be more reflective of Rashi’s fantasy, or if we give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps a dream or wisdom teaching). 

Like a Spider's Gossamer Web

Sept 6, 2014 Study Group

“Like a spider’s gossamer web”

    At Marc’s new abode with mezuzah /blessing of home first!

Center of Circle with set with a Mandala of Directions: placed on round copper plate; Center=community candle “Circle of Friends” holding hands; south=bowl of water; west with volcanic rock from Joshua Tree for earth; north with incense for fire; east with owl wing for Air, outer circle west Oryx horn, north with deer antlers, east with ram’s horn, south – no specific Hebrew reference, so rabbit fur for innocence.  

Discussion about maintaining the presence of Torah in our study: If we focus on animal totems separate from Torah reading focus or using other references, reminder to return to Torah. Use of torah references from Chaim’s table to go deeper with an animal.  Tanach has been a source for our readings over the years including Torah, Writings (Ketubim) and Prophets. We can foray into other realms and refer back to Torah references of the animal, Torah is always present and we ourselves, each individual, are Torah too!

There was a suggestion regarding study of ‘cattle’ or livestock as this is mentioned frequently in Torah.  Need for sacrifices. Goats, sheep.  The Presence of animals was integral to daily Hebrew life on many levels, and is reflected in Torah/Tenach.  Our lives were immersed with animal life providing a range from livelihood, relationship, identity and symbolism.  We experience the powers of domestic and wild animals.  The Torah references animals in terms of what the animal does or produces and used metaphorically.

There was expressed in the group a need for expressing our own personal connections with animals, as a ‘totem’ or how we are moved by experiences and identity with animals and their qualities. The need to return to our indigenous Hebrew souls is important part of our exploration.

 Oryx horn passed around – speed round -We went around the circle as many times as needed for everyone to speak names of animals that are present in our lives, place their energy in the circle.

Focused in on spider: Job 8:8-8:14. …’the hope of the impious whose trust is like a spider’s gossamer web.’ Denotes fragility in life when piety is absent. Also, spider webs are literal traps, denoting being trapped by trust in in something other than the Divine.  This is a negative connotation, a weakness reference of delicacy of web, yet others noted that spider webs are also in reality one of the strongest things in the world, with engineers trying to imitate its qualities. (not to mention it’s refined beauty). .  Spiders are wondrous in many ways. A web may be destroyed today and be recreated the next day – tenacity and continuous revival/survival.

But also there is a positive/strong quality of Protection by the spider with the Midrash of David in Judea, fleeing from Saul’s desire to kill him due to his Jealousy of David’s charisma and popularity and deep friendship with Jonathan (possible homosexual reference?).  While hiding in the cave, Saul’s army passes him by due to spider web created across the cave entrance – creating the illusion of implausibility of David hiding in that cave - (similarity - passed over homes by angel of death during Egyptian loss of first born). The spider has protected him – a Divine intervention. And it was more than protection, it was also doing what was right (morally and per destiny?). We needed David to survive for the fate of our people.  Reference also to Charlotte’s Web wherein she protected using her web.  So, Spider/Akaveesh (H) the word implies “conquer or manage”, also weave/agile/swift. The spider is both strong and fragile. Weaving a web displays a management of desires.

There’s also a non-animal, yet another cave story in Samuel relating to King Saul, when he, as the first King, fell asleep in a cave during his search to kill David. David discovered him asleep but did not use this opportunity to harm him, instead tearing Saul’s garment, counting a coup over Saul, i.e. ‘ I was at an advantage, could have ended your threat to my existence, but chose instead, to show you mercy and spare your life.’  This is a Kindness with power, and a hidden overcoming of being driven by fear. 
Our first king, Saul was desired by the people, to be like other nations, but the prophet Samuel warned against this. It was also mentioned that Saul was moody, implying a mental illness i.e. Mood disorder, or paranoia.

We briefly looked at Kelev/dog who has been with humans since prehistoric times. The word implies heart (k’lev literally means “like heart”).  Mentioned in Deuteronomy as part of the phrase “a harlots hire, and exchange for a dog” are not used for an alter offering, as they were an abomination representing ill-gotten gains. Dogs could be trained to be vicious therefore a public menace.

Implications for our sense of animals as reflected through Kashrut. Animals may not be eaten for both being poorly or highly regarded. (bottom feeders, intelligent/beautiful/useful alive) As well as customs such as not eating the wing tips on chicken as it represents the spirit and freedom of the animal. Discussion of Kashrut (wild/domestic), the animals we mentioned in our speed round for future study.