Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Discovering our Personal Mission in Life

Rebbetzin on her way to Denmark with her granddaughter
Introduction
This week’s parasha is called Re’eh which means to see. We are called to open our eyes, live life to its fullest, in the moment, and truly see the depths of reality. 

Before I “saw the light of Torah” my group of friends attempted to see beyond the physical illusive reality and expand their consciousness through various drugs. As Torah Jews we don’t need drugs to open our consciousness. Hashem gives us the gift of expanded vision. All we have to do is to open ourselves to perceive. Seeing is a higher level than hearing, because hearing, which is often secondhand, cannot match personal experience. 

The meditation written below will help open us up to both hear and see beyond the surface, and choose life. Hashem gives us the power of seeing with the eyes of our heart. When we get in touch with this innate power, it will become crystal clear that true life – the source of goodness – is to love Hashem and serve Him with all our hearts. This is an even higher level than the Shema Yisrael, which is not written in the language of seeing because it refers to the future. For only in the future will Hashem be truly unified and perceived as one. Therefore, in the end of the Aleinu prayer we recite: “On that day, Hashem will be one and His name one!”[1] 

Let us take advantage of the power of seeing that flows into us today!
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin’s commentary to Haftorat Re'eh - "The Stones of the Holy Tribes"

Parasha Meditation Re’eh
Devarim 11:26-16:17
To Fulfill our Purpose in Life
Our Parasha opens with the words, “See, this day I set before you the blessing and the curse.[2] Netivat Shalom explains in the name of the Arizal that the true blessing is when we fulfill our personal mission, and do the rectifications for which we were brought into this world; whereas, the curse is when someone works hard without fulfilling his personal mission. “See, this day I set before you” indicates that Hashem gives each of us all the necessary conditions and tools to fulfill our mission. Each and every situation that we are placed in, all our challenges and tests, all facilitate us in fulfilling our purpose in the world. Through the circumstances in which Hashem places us, we can learn to find our personal mission in life. This is the meaning of “The blessing that (אשר/ asher) you shall hear…”[3] It doesn’t state – “The blessing if you listen to the mitzvot….” – because the blessing is unconditional. It is already given through all the situations in which Hashem places us, for the sake that we learn from our experiences about our purpose in life. All we need is to be mindful and conscious of what we can learn from each challenge that we face. Therefore, Hashem instructs us to see – experience everything that Hashem is constantly giving (נותן/noten) us, for the sake of blessing if we only listen.[4]

Discovering our Mission from the Repeated Patterns of our Life
How can we learn about our purpose in life from our circumstances? I believe that every person has a pattern of repeated situations, or types of people in their life, which serve as clues to their personal mission. For example being faced repeatedly with obnoxious people, provoking us to anger, could be a sign that our purpose in life is to overcome our tendency towards anger. Personally, in my life, the circumstances I have experienced clearly indicate that part of my purpose in life is to accept and even try to be happy, when others limit my scope, by starting competing projects. Some people have tests with parnassah (livelihood), always struggling to put bread on the table. Their purpose may be accepting their lot in life and working hard to make due with little.

Becoming Aware of the Mission of Each and Every Day
“See, I set before you this day…”[5] Just as every person has a particular mission in life, each of our days as well has a special rectification. Whatever is possible to rectify today, is different than the rectification for yesterday and tomorrow. This is why Hashem renews the creation of the world every single day, as we pray on Shabbat: “מְחַדֵּשׁ בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית.”/mechadesh b’chol yom tamid ma’ase bereishit – “…renewing the original creation each and every day.” [6] The blessing is to “hear” and fulfill the purpose and mission of each particular day. For this reason, every single day, a Heavenly Voice goes out and calls “return wild children!”[7] The reason new Heavenly Voice is necessary daily, is because each day has its particular mission. All the things that happens to us during the day, call out to us to return and fulfill the particular mission of that day.[8]

Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart
Why does the Torah open with the word “Re’eh” – “See” rather than for example: “Know”? The heart has the power to both hear and see.[9] Seeing is a higher level than hearing. The first level is “the days will speak”.[10] The High Holidays will speak to the Jewish heart. When we become mindful of these holy days, we can hear the voice of these days through the ears of our heart. The next level is when the days not only speak, but roar with all their might: “The lion roars, who will not fear?”[11] The Hebrew word for “lion” – אריה/“arieh” is an acronym for Elul, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Hoshana Rabah.[12] These days are the foundation for the entire year. The highest level, however, is when we see clearly with the eyes of our heart beyond any doubt that the blessing is to listen to Hashem, and that the “Torah is life and goodness.”[13] Therefore, “chose life!”[14]

The Wakeup Call to Be Mindful of the Rosh Hashana Vision
We always read Parashat Re’eh on the Shabbat that precedes Rosh Chodesh Elul. The Torah calls us to “see” that in only one month “I will give you the day” – The holy day of Rosh Hashana, and now is the time to start preparing for this holy and awesome day. The blessing is to hear with our hearts how “the voice of my beloved knocks,”[15] and calls the Jewish soul to awake from its slumber. This is why we begin to blow the Shofar on Rosh Chodesh Elul. Already on the Shabbat when we bless the new month of Elul, the gates of Heaven open, and the vision of Rosh Hashana emanate. According to how much we prepare ourselves before Rosh Hashana, is our merit attaining the source of blessing on Rosh Hashana!


Meditation
Make yourself comfortable and breathe deeply several times.

1. Get in touch with your heart and imagine mentally removing the klipa (husk) of the hearing center in your heart.

2. Keep breathing and open yourself to hear the Heavenly Voice calling you back to your purpose in life.

3. Visualize all the distractions in your life trying to divert you from your personal mission. They can take any form such as glittering movies, material goods, black clouds, or any other image that comes up for you.

4. Imagine chasing away all of these diversions one by one.

5. You are at a fork in the road. Before you lie two paths. Listen up and open yourself to hear the sound of the Shofar calling you towards the path to the life, love and blessing.

6. Return to your heart and imagine mentally removing the klipa (husk) of the vision center in your heart.

7. Visualize yourself standing before your cleared Torah path of your personal mission. See yourself take the first step towards the blessing. Continue to walk upon your personal pathway towards the light.

8. When you are ready, open your eyes and continue your day in a more mindful state of mind.


Notes
“See I place before you…” Why is the word “I” – (אנוכי/Anochi) necessary? This word is to connect us to the Ten Commandments which begins with (אנוכי/Anochi), and urge us to fulfill them, for they include all the mitzvot.[16] Our parasha alludes to the eternal First Commandment, “I (Anochi) am Hashem your G-d…” Every Jew has the ability to believe so strongly in the Ten Commandments that they become visible to the eyes at the level of “seeing.” Therefore, although the word Re’eh is told to the entire Jewish people, it is written in singular language,[17] because it refers to the Ten Commandments. They were written in singular for each and every person to relate tot them on his or her level.

[1] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Re’eh, p. 83.
[2] Devarim 11:26.
[3] Devarim 11:27.
[4] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Re’eh, p. 75.
[5] Devarim 11:26.
[6] Shabbat, Morning Prayer.
[7] Zohar Chadash, Midrash Ha’ne’elam, Eichah.
[8] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Re’eh, p. 77.
[9] Zohar, Part 2: 116b).
[10] Iyov 32:7.
[11] Amos 3:8.
[12] The Shelah HaKodesh, Parashat Shoftim: אלול, ראש השנה, יום כיפור, הושענא רבה.
[13] Devarim 30:15.
[14] Ibid. 30:19.
[15] Shir Hashirim 5:2.
[16] Ba’al HaTurim, Devarim 11:26.
[17] Re’eh – ראה rather than ראו – Re’u.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Listening to the Voice of Hashem with Our Heels

Alumnae students celebrating B'erot's 16th birthday with Rabbi Lazer Brody
I’m enjoying a much needed vacation with my family, getting away from regular routine after haven shaken myself off from being glued to the computer. This gives me the opportunity to experience the Torah and connect with Hashem through the rest of my being, not just my head. Perhaps my break from thinking up and writing meditations, will allow me to actually try them out myself! I would love to learn to open my heart and really listen up. Perhaps on the quiet waves of the כינרת/Kineret (Sea of Galilee), it would be possible to hear the whispers of the Heavenly Voice that calls us back? It was my search for new experiences which eventually brought me back to the Torah. I hope that this same search will bring Torah back to all of me, even the lowest heel – Eikev, which opens this parasha. 

If you too would like to remove blockages from your heart, as Hashem tells us in this week’s parasha, then read on and try out this meditation, which is based on some of the visualization techniques I use in EmunaHealing. Let us try it together, and pray that we may be able to move the blockage from our hearts, so we can listen to the voice of Hashem, open our heart and learn to really love with all of our hearts!

May your summer be fruitful and filled with heart opening experiences!

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin’s commentary to Haftorat Eikev - "Hashem - “He” or “She” or both?"

Parasha Meditation Eikev
Devarim 7:12-11:25
Introduction
Strengthening our Sense of Hearing in the Month of Av
Every Jewish month according to Sefer Yetzira is associated with one specific sense. During the month of Av we are connected to the sense of hearing.[1] That means we have a greater ability during this time to open our ears to hear Hashem’s voice calling us back. In the month of Av we start reading the Book of Devarim, which is all about listening to Moshe Rabbeinu’s thirty-six day long monologue. Like last week’s parasha when we learned about the Shema Yisrael, (Hear oh Israel), this week’s parasha opens by charging us to listen: “It shall come to pass, because (eikev) you listen to these ordinances, and keep, and do them, that Hashem your G-d shall keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore unto your fathers.”[2]

Allowing the Torah to Penetrate into the Lowest Part of our Being
This week’s parasha is called Eikev, which is translated in the context of the Torah verse “because” or “in exchange for.” However, it really refers to the heel of the foot. Netivat Shalom explains that there is the listening of the mind, the listening of the heart and the listening of the body – all the way down to its lowest and densest part, the heel. All our opinions and outlooks are connected to our mind; our desires and will are dependent on the heart, while our lower instincts and cravings are part of our lower body, with the heel representing our lowest point. While it is nice to be able to study Torah with our head, the greatest accomplishment is to make the Torah penetrate into both our heart, stomach, legs, feet and even the very lowest part of our being – the heel. Therefore, our parasha opens with the Hebrew והיה – v’haya. – This way of saying “It shall come to pass” is the language of simcha – happiness.[3] There is no greater simcha than when not only our ears will hear, but also our heart and even our heel will be able to listen, so that we can make our Judaism penetrate into the very lowest physical fiber of our being – the heel.[4]

Listening With Our Heel – “Mesirut Nefesh” – Total Devotion
Although our mind is intellectual, and our heel is at the very bottom of our body, listening with the heel is greater than listening with our mind. This is because the heel represents total devotion; whereas the mind always is questioning, and needs to be convinced into serving Hashem. When entering a hot tub, with which part of the body do we enter first, the head or the heel? The heel has “mesirut nefesh” by giving it itself over in total emunah (faith). So too, in order to bring down Hashem's promises and blessings we must totally devote ourselves to Hashem and His mitzvot.[5]

Why don’t We Hear the Heavenly Voice?

Unfortunately most of us are very far from listening to Hashem with our heels. At best, we are struggling to bring the Torah into our hearts. “Every single day a Bat Kol (heavenly voice) goes out from Mt. Chorev and declares, “Woe to you people because of the embarrassment of the Torah…”[6] If this heavenly voice emerges daily how come we don’t hear it? The reason is that our heart is blocked. This week’s parasha is about opening our heart, so we can learn to really hear. 

Circumcising the Foreskin of Our Hearts
“You shall circumcise the foreskin of your hearts, and no longer be stiff-necked.”[7] What kind of foreskin is on the heart? Rashi explains that this refers to that which blocks and covers the heart.[8] Every time a person sins, he creates a blockage on his heart, which makes it difficult to hear the voice of Hashem. Netivat Shalom comment on the double langue of Rashi – (blocks and covers), explaining that in addition to this spiritual blockage, the yetzer hara (negative impulse) also causes us to cover up our heart. When the heart is covered it is unable to hear and accept the words spoken to it. Appointing the yetzer hara king makes it impossible to know and hear the words of Hashem. For the yetzer hara is standing at the opening of the heart, preventing the words of Torah from entering the soul.

The Wicked Gatekeeper of our Heart
This can be compared to a king whose gatekeepers are thieves. If someone wants to come before the king to complain about these wicked servants, the gatekeepers would surely not let him in, as this would cause them to lose their job. In the same way the yetzer hara, guarding the opening of our heart, prevents the voice of the Torah from entering, so that he won’t be thrown out from his job as gatekeeper.

Hanging on to His Position by Blocking our Heart
Every single Jew, even when leaving Torah and Mitzvot, is still a part of G-d Above. Therefore, if only the word of Hashem, with the potential to set him straight, would enter his heart, he would immediately return in complete repentance. This is why, the yetzer hara is specifically concerned with preventing the holy words of the Torah from entering our hearts and move us to action. He is not interested in becoming un-employed.

Opening our Heart to Hear
The foreskin on our heart covers our Jewish spark, and makes us feel disconnected from Hashem. As long as our heart is blocked and the heavenly voice cannot penetrate and move us to repent, our heart is like the heart of a non-Jew, where Hashem’s word doesn’t enter. Therefore, Hashem requires us to circumcise our heart and remove both the blockage and the covering. It is not enough to remove the blockage which causes us to sin, it is even more important to remove the covering that doesn’t allow the Torah to penetrate our hearts, so we can become open to hear the words of truth with our entire being.[9] It is interesting to note that this two stage spiritual circumcision parallels the Jewish circumcision of the male organ where also two foreskins are removed – the outer milah and the inner periah.


Meditation
Close your eyes, breathe deeply and relax. Tell yourself mentally to relax. Relax your forehead, relax your eyebrows, relax your eyes, relax your ears. Relax your entire head, neck and shoulders. Move your mind’s eye to your chest and heart, relax, relax, relax! Continue to relax all the parts of your body all the way down to your heels.

1. Get in touch with your heart behind the ribcage a little to the left of the middle. Can you feel your heart beating? Place both of your hands together on top of your heart and press, until you really feel your own pulse there.

2. Breathe rhythmically and slowly to the beat of your heart. Make sure to empty out all the air on the outbreath.

3. Remove your hands and relax them at your side, imagine a seed trying to sprout inside of your heart.

4. Visualize a rocky terrain inside of your heart preventing the seed from growing. Imagine the size of the rock formation, is it many scattered rocks? Are they big like boulders or small like pebbles? Do they form a solid wall around your heart, or are there just a few rows of rocks with holes of light in the middle?

5. Imagine the power of the seed within your heart expanding, sprouting forth and beginning to grow, pushing away the blocking of the rock formation.

6. Visualize the rocks gradually crumbling down, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces all around the seed of your heart. Imagining how the big rocks become smaller and smaller, falling away, how the holes in the wall become greater letting in more and more light. Continue this visualization until all of the rocks are gone. Finally, the gate of your heart is opened, and the wicked gatekeeper falls into the sea.

7. Water the sprout of your heart with waters of Torah and Mitzvot. Watch it grow, its branches becoming one with your arteries and veins, while it turns into a beautiful green plant of your choice, filling your heart with love.

8. Think about a person that you love very much and feel how your heart is opened even more towards him or her. Decide one act of love you will do for this person at your very first opportunity. Then open your eyes, excited to fulfill your resolve.


Notes
In a sense “hearing” is deeper than “seeing.” We can “'see” something awesome, but “seeing” it, does not guarantee that we will make any changes in our way of life. However, when we “hear” the mitzvot – the words of the Torah are planted into our hearts. They take root there, and help us grow with the Torah.[10]

[1] Sefer Yetzira 5:8.
[2] Devarim 7:12.
[3] See Ohr HaChayim, Bereishit 27:40. This form והיה with the conversive vav turns past into future. As if through the happiness we want the past to spill over into the future.
[4] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Eikev, p. 49.
[5] Rabbi Shelomo Carlebach, Parashas Eikev, Issue #25, 19-20 Menachem Av 5767.
[6] Shemot Rabbah 41:7.
[7] Devarim 10:16.
[8] Rashi ibid.
[9] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Eikev, pp. 70-71.
[10] Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Parashas Eikev, Issue #25, 19-20 Menachem Av 5767.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Connecting with the Unity of the Community of Israel and Hashem

At the walnut tree
This week’s parasha always touches me. It’s so filled with emotions, so suitable for the celebration of TubAv. Moshe Rabbeinu describes his very deepest yearning for the Land of Israel. How privileged are we to be able to not only enter the Land, but live here and nurture our relationship with the Land of Israel through planting and growing!

Mazal tov! This parasha celebrates Midreshet B’erot’s anniversary on
TubAv – the time for celebrating the rise of the feminine mode. The spiritual energy of TubAv fits Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin, as our program is in the forefront of celebrating Jewish femininity. We emphasize how women have a major role in building the Malchut (kingdom) by building the Jewish home and land. Returning the Shechina – the Feminine Indwelling Presence to the land, does not just happen through academic study alone, but rather by means of getting deeply in tune with the inner world of spirit and the outer forces of nature, while developing our feminine insight and intuition and linking the spiritual &material through outwardly expression of creative inner potential.

The end of the parasha includes the Shema Yisrael prayer, with which I connect so deeply, as I recite the Shema Yisrael daily, not only during our morning prayers but also in my spiritual healing practice, as the power of the Shema Yisrael – unifying Hashem expels darkness and negativity. These six powerful words corresponding to the six points of the Magen David (Star of David), is a shield of protection from negative energy. 


In the meditation I share with you, we practice connecting to Hashem’s light of unity uniting the opposite energies of fire and water represented by the ש/shin and the מ/mem שְׁמַע/Shema connecting ourselves with the energy of unity within all of Israel and Hashem. 

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum


Read Rebbetzin’s commentary to Haftorat Va’etchanan - "Tub’Av: Rectifying our Inner Lights"

Parasha Meditation Va’etchanan
Devarim 3:23-7:11
Introduction
Shema Yisrael – The Centerpiece of Jewish Belief, Prayer and Spiritual Healing
The Shema Yisrael is like a seed that contains the entire Torah – a direct shortcut to Hashem. This centerpiece of Jewish belief and prayer contains the power to draw us back to our Soul’s purpose: Loving G-d, and sanctifying His Name as One. שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל הַשֵם אֱלֹהֵינוּ הַשֵם אֶחָד –“Shema Yisrael, Hear O Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d Hashem is One.”[1] It says “shema” – hear/ listen, not just because we cannot see G-d, but because we are to bring the truth of Hashem’s Oneness deep into our being. What we see remains external to ourselves. We cannot ‘see’ but we can ‘hear’ Hashem communicating to us especially through the words of His Holy Torah. We unite with Him through seeing and remembering, but even more so by hearing and listening.[2] The Shema is a verbal mikvah, pouring into every level of our souls. It aligns us to the truth of Hashem’s Oneness, purifying doubt and the temptation to believe that there is anything in the world that is separate from Hashem.[3]

Complete Active Listening
שְׁמַע/Shema – Hear: The first word of the Shema prayer means hear or listen. Its first letter ש/shin represents אֶש/esh – fire, the following letter מ/mem – is associated with מַיִם/mayim – water. To truly listen is to unite our vital energy of fire with the receptiveness of water. This kind of hearing is called active listening. The last letter in the word Shema is ע/ayin, which means eye and has the shape of an eye. To truly listen is to visualize the message we hear in our mind’s eye. The letter ע/ayin has the numerical value of seventy, corresponding to the seventy facets of the Torah, and the seventy languages of the world. To listen is to integrate the message with all its possible numerous aspects.

Israel – Straight to G-d
יִשְׂרָאֵל/Yisrael – Israel. This word can be broken up into two: Straight ישר/yashar אֵל/G-d. The first letter of the word yashar is י/yud – the smallest most humble of letters. When writing any Hebrew letter, we always begin from the top, forming a י/yud. This letter – the most hidden beginning of all the letters – is the first letter of Yisrael – the beginning and purpose of Hashem’s creation plan. He created the world for the sake of Israel, but our greatness is hidden throughout our exile and persecution. ש/Shin, the second letter of Israel looks like flames of fire. It represents the fiery energy to keep us going, and keep our passion for Hashem strong. ר/Reish, the third letter of Israel – has the shape of the back of the head. The letter reish also means head (rosh). With this letter we become the leader of the world, but only if we connect with the אֵל/alef- lamed of G-d’s revealed name. “El” also means power, and interestingly it may be the root of the English word electricity. This name of G-d consists of the א/alef the oneness of G-d together with the ל/lamed – the tallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet – symbolizing going upwards reaching towards its higher spiritual purpose.

The Eternal Name
הַשֵם – The four lettered name of G-d is translated most correctly as the Eternal. It includes within it the letters of heh, yud, and vav through which you can spell הָיָה /haya –was, הֹוֶה/hove – is, יִהְיֶה/yiheye – will be. Hashem is beyond time and includes all past, present and future. The ה/heh is the letter of breath, birth and creativity, the letter ו/vav is the letter of connection. G-d created and breathed life into all existence and connected the world to himself. The first י/yud of His name denotes beginning, He is the first, nothing preceded Him. Likewise Israel is called the first.[4] In this way both Israel and G-d begin with this same letter signifying the connection between us.

Elokim – The Power of Nature
אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ – The root of this word is Elokim the word for G-d which is manifested within the physical world also denoting judgment. Elokim decreed that the natural rules of the world operate in according to set laws. The first two letters are shared with the word for Israel denoting our connection with Elokim. It is interesting that these letters are in the end of the word Yisrael whereas they appear in the beginning of the word for G-d. Our end goal and purpose to reach the Divine, is only the beginning of G-d’s infinite being which is so uplifted beyond what we can even begin to imagine. The heh is the birth not only of our world, but of all the worlds beyond us, reaching towards the yud that most spiritual letter corresponding to the world Above – The World to Come. The suffix נוּ – is always used to denote “us” or “our”. The nun stands for the fifty gates of understanding all which Hashem wants to grant us, and the vav is the letter of connection. Whatever is ours is what we connect with on the deepest level.

The Gate of Brotherhood & Unity 
אֶחָד/echad – The first letters of the word for one (echad) is א/alef and ח/chet, which spell the word אח/ach – brother. In order to be united we need to feel the connectedness of brotherhood. The last letter of echad is ד/dalet which has the numerical value of four, representing the four corners of the world that needs to be united in the One. The ח/chet in the middle of the word represents the chuppah (marriage canopy), which connect together the oneness of G-d with the four directions of the world. It is the gate through which the Oneness, so to speak, has to pass in order to enter the physical world.


Meditation
Seat yourself comfortably in your space, relax and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and relax even more.

1. Visualize the first word of the shema – שְׁמַע/shema with each of its letters ש/shin מ/mem and ע/ayin.

2. The ש/shin and the מ/mem represent the opposite energies of fire and water. Imagine the ע/ayin being a vessel that contains, holds together and unite both the fire of ש/shin and the water of מ/mem.

3. Breath slowly. Inhale while visualizing the letter ע/ayin, exhale while making a “shhh” sound, and visualizing the letter ש/shin.

4. Inhale while visualizing the letter ע/ayin, exhale while making a “mmm” sound and visualizing the letter מ/mem.

5. Break up the word שְׁמַע/shema into two: שם/shem and ע/ayin – Hear how the name of ע/ayin is the Name of the wellspring….שְׁמַע/shema –hear how the name – שם/shem is connected to the – ע/ayin. It is the name of seventy. G-d has seventy names, to awaken all the sparks of the seventy aspects of the Torah. Imagine these seventy sparks flashing out of Hashem’s שם/shem – name.

6. “The Name” with an open מ/mem is Hashem – the King of the lower world.[5] Visualize an immense light streaming down from the opening of the מ/mem into the world – spiraling down into the house you are in – then into the room you are sitting in, and finally filling your entire being. Bask in this light which floods you.

7. שְׁמַע/shema means hear, ע/ayin means eye. Can you hear with your eye? Allow yourself to visualize the message we hear in our mind’s eye. Hear the oneness of Hashem with your eyes.

8. Recite silently, שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל/Shema Yisrael while visualizing entering a dark tunnel with a candle. Imagine how the שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל/Shema Yisrael emanate light that pushes away all the darkness. The oneness of the light of Hashem descends and connects to the light low and spreads out to Yerushalayim and to the entire globe of the earth, then to all of the worlds.

9. Break up the word יִשְׂרָאֵל /Yisrael into two ישר/yashar and לקאל/l’kel – Straight to G-d. You as part of the people of יִשְׂרָאֵל /Yisrael have a straight connection to G-d. Feel yourself being pulled upwards straight towards G-d.

10. Visualize the four letters of Hashem’s name yud and heh and vav and heh.[6] Feel all the love and compassion emanating from this name into your heart.

11. הָשֵם אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ/ Hashem Our G-d. Breathe slowly and relaxed. Inhale הָשֵם /Hashem, exhale אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ/Our G-d. Connect with how הָשֵם /Hashem is the G-d of every one of us – of the entire Jewish people. הָשֵם /Hashem is my G-d. We are one with each other and Hashem.

12. Breathe into אֶחָד/echad – Our unity emanate from His light. Our unity allows us to see and hear and to receive knowledge and love.


Notes
There is a spiritual pilot light, or Pintele Yid, in every Jew that never is extinguished, and the Shema is a spark that causes that hidden light to grow and strengthen. We suffer when we are not connected to this truth without understanding why. The perpetual presence of the Shema pilot light gets obscured by layers of worldly impurity that comes with exile, true exile: the distance from knowing Hashem. Every time we say the Shema, the light that is within us grows stronger, purifying us with the truth, connecting us to a wellspring of emunah (faith).

[1] Devarim 6:4.
[2] Rabbi Shelomo Carlebach, Parashas Eikev, Issue #25, 19-20 menachem Av 5767.
[3] By alumna student Tziona Achishena for full article see <http://berotbatayin.org/Spirituality/Shema.htm>.
[4] Rashi, Bereishit 1:1.
[5] Zohar, part 3, p 236b usually when the letter mem ends a word the ending ם/mem is used which has a closed shape whereas the regular מ/mem is open at the bottom the open מ/mem refers to the King over the lower world, whereas the closed ending ם/mem refers to aspect of the Upper King in the hidden world.
[6] According to certain Rabbinic authorities including Rav Ezra Sheinberg of Orot Ha’Arizal, Tzefat, women who have not immersed in a mikvah after their period should not visualize the four lettered Name of Hashem.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Turning our Vision into Reality

Our Holy Temple - the Beit HaMikdash
When I came to the Kotel (Wailing Wall) about thirty-three years ago as a teenager newly graduated from high-school, the beauty of the golden Dome of the Rock attracted my eyes. I had just met a girl named Chava, from Diaspora Yeshiva, who was trying to mekarev me (bring me close to Torah). I remember that when I marveled at the beauty of the golden mosque, Chava’s response surprised me greatly. “Soon, the dome will be destroyed, and in its place will be built the most beautiful Temple for Hashem,” were her words. I couldn’t believe what she had just said, so softly and “matter of factly.” How could she know that this most gorgeous building, with inlaid stones of blue and gold, would be demolished? And how could she be happy about this forthcoming destruction? 

I was appalled. Here, I came from the open-minded, tolerant Denmark believing in the spirituality and rights of all people, and then my own religion again showed itself to be utterly narrow-minded and chauvinistic about its own rites, to the exclusion of everything which is beautiful and valuable to others. I had no idea of what the Temple represented in Judaism, and why it’s rebuilding has been the center-piece of our prayer for thousands of years. I didn’t even know it was mentioned in our prayers at all. As I started to learn in Yeshiva, I still did not understand why we were mourning on Tisha B’Av. Over the years I gradually got an idea of what the Temple is all about, and how its rebuilding represents the culmination of our spiritual yearning and healing. 

I hope through the meditation mentioned below, we can come closer to understand and imagine the splendor of the Feminine In-dwelling Presence returning to the world and to our hearts. 

May we merit experiencing all of our visualizations in actual reality
With Blessings of the Torah and the Land,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin’s commentary to Haftorat Devarim: "The Shabbat of Vision"

Parasha Meditation Devarim
Devarim 1:1-3:22
Introduction
Shabbat Chazon – The Shabbat of Vision
During the Shabbat before Tish’a B’Av, Hashem grants us a vision of the third Temple.[1] Therefore, This Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon – meaning the Shabbat of Vision. It is also named so, because our haftorah relates Yesha’yahu’s “chazon”/ vision of the destruction of Jerusalem. However, other shabbats are not named by the first word of their haftorah.[2] Therefore, it makes sense that this Shabbat is named for the vision of the rebirth that is destined to follow the destruction of the Temple.

What has mourning for the ancient Temple have to do with our lives today? Understanding the deeper meaning of Shabbat Chazon explains why we mourn for some building which was destroyed in the past. The Midrash explains that “every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt, is considered as if that generation destroyed it.”[3] Therefore, mourning for the Temple is really about repenting for why we are not yet able to rebuild it. The traditional way of repentance is, first get rid of all the negative and then you will be ready to build a positive foundation as it states: “Depart from evil and do good.”[4] However, the Chassidic interpretation is “depart from evil” by means of “doing good.” The highest kind of repentance for the fact that we are not yet on the level to rebuild the Temple is not through beating ourselves on the breast in confession, but rather to begin the “good” work of reconstructing the Temple in our minds and souls. Shabbat is a special day when our inherent eternal connection with Hashem is activated. There is never any mourning on Shabbat. On Shabbat we all rise up from mourning to delight in eating, drinking, festive clothes and new fruits. Therefore, the Shabbat preceding the 9th of Av is especially suitable for the kind of repentance of “doing good” through visualizing the Temple.[5] The purpose of the vision is not just to comfort us, but to inspire us and elevate us to turn the vision of the Third Temple into physical reality.

In our time, visualization – the ability to see mental images in your mind – has become a very popular tool, for attracting success and prosperity. When you visualize a new reality, you internalize it in a way that merely thinking or talking about it won't accomplish. It becomes something that you know, that you can relate to and understand.[6]

Prime time for Seeking out Tzion – our Holy Temple
Rabbi Yochanan explained: “For I will restore health to you, and from your wounds I will heal you; this is the word of G-d. They called you an outcast, saying, ‘She is Tzion; none seek her.’”[7] It says, ‘None seek her,’ from which we learn that she requires seeking.[8] We are called to seek out, learn about, desire and visualize Tzion – our Holy Temple. This Shabbat every Jewish soul receive a glimpse of our world as a Divine home – a place where all G-d’s creatures will experience His presence. This Shabbat is the prime time for seeking out Tzion, and imprinting our super-conscious experience into our conscious awareness. Through our effort to visualize in our minds and meditate on what our soul is seeing, we have the ability to shift the energy and become empowered to realize our vision in actual reality. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Rebbe of Lubavitch emphasized the importance of meditating this Shabbat on a vision of a House which will fuse the upper and lower worlds, spiritual and physical reality, in permanent union.

Visualizing the Pillars of the Temple Gate
I’m finding it a bit difficult to create the kind of meditation that will mirror the vision of our souls during Shabbat Chazon. On the one hand the above description is very abstract and difficult to bring down into clear steps of visualization. On the other hand, trying to visualize the intricate details of the building of the Temple also makes me feel lost. So I decided to focus on visualizing the two pillars that Shlomo built at the entrance of the Temple. “He erected the pillars for the hall of the sanctuary, and he erected the right-hand pillar and called it ‘Yachin’ – (establishment), and he erected the left-hand pillar and called it ‘Boaz.’ – (strength)”[9]

Yachin and Boaz – Signs of Eternal Strength
The names of these two pillars seem to describe vision rather than function. These pillars “were at the entrance of the Temple, and he called them by names to create a positive sign. He called one ‘Yachin’, an expression of establishment, that the Temple should be established forever … ‘Boaz’ is an expression of strength, a contraction of ‘Bo Oz [strength within]’, meaning that G-d should place in it strength and endurance…”[10] These two pillars represent the transition from mundane to holy. Their names express a vision and promise to everyone who would transit within their gate. They taught every Jew who passed between them, “We are invested with Divine strength, and we will be established forever. There will never come a time when entering this Sanctuary will fail to transport you into another realm, and there will never come a time when this portal will cease to be available to any and all.”[11]

Their Everlasting Power Engraved within our Soul
However, King Shlomo’s glorious Temple was destroyed on Tisha b’Av nearly two thousand years ago, and with it these pillars of faith. So was the promise of the pillars names of faith in vain? Were the names of promise for eternal establishment and strength deceiving? There must be a way to explain the eternal strength of these twin-pillars. Perhaps the everlasting power of Yachin and Boaz is engraved within our soul. Whenever the Temple would stand high in Jerusalem, these pillars had a physical expression, whereas during the two thousand years of exile, the spiritual energy of these pillars would continue to inspire every Jewish soul with vision and faith in the Temple’s forthcoming rebuilding.


Meditation:

Sit down in a relaxing place and center yourself. Imagine inhaling Hashem’s life-giving light and exhaling tension, pressure and worry.

1. Keep breathing slowly while inhaling יָ/Y-a, exhaling כִין/chin four times, think about strong establishment while you breathe.

2. Now keep breathing slowly while inhaling בֹּ/Bo, exhaling עַז/az four times, think about inner strength and endurance.

3. Try to visualize the two great copper pillars at the opening of the Temple, towering nine meters high – about four and a half times the height of a person as you keep breathing.

4. Visualize the שׁוֹשָׁן/shoshan –lily on top of each of the pillars with its six petals decorating the pillars Yachin on the right side of the Temple gate and Boaz on the left.

5. Visualize the glow of the full moon connecting with Yachin on the right, and the power of the Sun connecting with Boaz on the left.

6. Imagine the opening of the Temple and the light exuding from it. How does it make you feel? Can you feel how it lifts you up to a new you?

7. Imagine your heart expanding and really feeling the love for every Jew. Ask yourself, “What do I aspire to be? Which step do I need to take to get where I really want to be?”

8. Take your time to imagine going through the gate, really visualize the small figure of yourself entering between the tall pillars of Yachin and Boaz. What do you experience? Try to imagine the visions/colors, sounds, feelings, smells and even the taste of the air.

9. Make a resolution. Promise yourself and Hashem to make a positive change in your life that will bring you closer to who you really want to be, and help you bring about the rebuilding of the Temple, both in your heart and in the world.


Notes:
Shabbat Chazon is greater than any other Shabbat of the year. “There was never a holiday for Israel like the day that the Temple was destroyed.” The reason can be understood in light of the Jewish law that a person is obligated to have relations with his wife before traveling on a journey.[12] The last moment before Hashem’s Shechina (Indwelling presence) takes leave of Israel; there is a greater closeness and intimacy than ever. Let us take advantage of this Shabbat to visualize all the true goodness for which we are yearning!

[1] Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, also quoted in the Tzemach Tzedek's notes to Eichah, Nach, Vol. II, p. 1097, in the footnotes.
[2] Except for Shabbat Nachamu, “the Shabbat of consolation” in the name of the first word of Haftorat V’etchanan.
[3] Midrash Tehillim 137.
[4] Tehillim 37:27.
[5] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Devarim, pp. 18-19.
[6]See Remez Sasson, Visualize and Achieve, .
[7] Yirmiyah 30:17.
[8] Babylonian Talmud, Sukah 41a.
[9] I Melachim 7:21.
[10] Radak, I Melachim 7:21
[11] Yachin and Boaz: The Pillars of our Faith by Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner, Rosh Beit Midrash, Zichron Dov Yeshiva University Torah Mitzion Beit Midrash of Toronto.
[12] Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta, Ohev Yisrael, Parashat Devarim.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What is the Purpose for Every Stop on our Path?

Women from all over the world meet, bond, share when B'erot is the crossroads of their personal journey
Jews like to travel. Since my early childhood, my parents took us children to visit different countries in addition to our yearly trips to Israel to visit our grandparents ob”m. I still have a shelf full of national dolls that I collected during all my childhood travels. I’m sure it expanded my horizon to be exposed to various cultures and languages from an early age.

At every stop on our journeys there is something to receive and elevate. Sometimes we Jews had to flee from place to place, during our long-winded history of exile and persecution. Each location, involved a particular rectification for our souls.

My grandfather, Meir Erteschick, ob”m was born in Poland, developed his business in Italy, found his wife in Germany and settled in Denmark, before making Aliyah to Israel. He lived in several other places that I can’t remember, but I know he was fluent in eleven languages.

Before settling in Bat Ayin, we lived two years in N.Y. and two years in Memphis TN. Not being American born, I really learned from the inside about Jewish city life, and also about the mentality of “out of towners.” This experience has greatly helped me relate to my American students of various backgrounds.

Now we feel very settled in Bat Ayin and hope to never have to uproot from here. Bat Ayin is like a magnet attracting so many sparks to elevate. Still, Hashem guides me on my yearly whirlwind North American journeys, teaching Torah and extracting sparks. I’m so happy when I hear how many of the women I meet on my tours are making Aliyah – (immigrating) to Israel. I know there is a reason for every place I have lived, as we come into life with part of our soul missing. Every stop on our journeys is Divinely guided, for the sake of redeeming these missing soul parts. We have the ability to elevate these sparks, when we accept and cope with whatever place and situation we are placed. Read on to learn Torah sources and a meditation to ingrain within us the emunah that there is a purpose for every place on our path.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin’s commentary to Haftorat Masai -  "The Way to Redemption Paved by the Jewish Family"

Parasha Meditation
Masai, Bamidbar 33:1-36:13
Introduction
Following the Cloud Throughout the Journeys of our Lives
“The children of Israel traveled from Ra’amses and encamped in Sukkot. They traveled from Sukkot and encamped in Etham, at the edge of the wilderness. They travelled from Etham, and turned back unto Pi hachirot, which is before Ba’al-Zephon; and they encamped before Migdol...”[1] Why does the Torah go into trouble by keep mentioning the place from where they journeyed – a mere repetition of the previous arrival place? Sforno explains that both the encamping and decamping were immensely trying. It was extremely difficult to have to leave a place suddenly without much time to prepare. Sometimes the next location would be worse than the place they came from, and sometimes the opposite. This is why at each stop, it mentions both the place they left and their arrival place;[2] teaching us about their steadfast emunah to follow the cloud. “By Hashem’s word they camped, and by Hashem's word they traveled.”[3] I admire my students, many of whom still follow the cloud, moving from place to place according to the signs they receive from Hashem.

Israel’s Desert Wanderings Paved the Way for Future Exiles
The travels of the children of Israel in the wilderness may be a pre-curser that paved the way for the Jews to have the strength to go through centuries of exile, in the desert of the Diaspora. During our long winding exile, sojourning in one country, and the necessity to leave on sudden notice, is like our encampment in the desert, by Divine decree. Actually the beginning of the first verse of Parashat Masei is an acronym for the four main exiles of Jewish history: Edom (Rome), Media, Babylon and Yavan (Greece).אֵלֶּה מַסְעֵי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל /Ele Masei B’nei Yisrael – “These are the journeys of the children of Israel.”[4] These were also wanderings in “places of snakes and vipers, scorpions and thirst,”[5] where our very survival was miraculous. “Snakes” correspond to Babylon, “vipers” to Media, “scorpions” to Greece and “thirst” to Edom – our current exile. These four exiles are also hinted in the first verse of the creation story.[6] From this we learn that our exiles were not a punishment but rather ingrained in the very order of creation in order to purify the people of Israel. All our suffering throughout Jewish history comes only to elevate us to a higher level.[7] Personally, I have also experienced a tiny drop of this purification process. After making Aliyah and living as a family in Israel for seven years, it was quite a shock when my husband received a court-order to work in a physician shortage area in USA, in order to pay back his conditional scholarship. Returning back to Israel once the service had ended was also not easy. It seems like North America is imbued with magnetic power to hold on to people which makes it hard to leave its comforts. Perhaps this has begun to change, as the sparks are being emptied out of there, like in Egypt.[8]

Extracting Holy Sparks
The Parasha opens up by listing the forty-two different stations that the Israelites encamped during their forty years desert wandering. Why did the children of Israel stay very briefly in some places, while in others, such as Kadesh, they stayed for nineteen years?[9] The reason is that Israel’s journey in the wilderness was in order to extract holy sparks. Desolate places void of people are hosts to snakes, vipers, scorpions and impure forces that subjugate holy sparks. Hashem’s people had to wander there in order to extract these trapped sparks. Therefore, Israel would encamp one year in one place, while only twelve hours in another. The length of stay at each station was according to how much time was needed to extract the particular sparks trapped there.

Qualifications for Extracting Sparks
The Torah states: “These are the journeys of the children of Israel, who came out of the land of Egypt, by their hosts under the hand of Moshe and Aharon.” This verse teaches us about the Israelites qualifications to extract holy sparks. 1. “…who came out of the land of Egypt” – They had been purified by the iron furnace of their suffering in Egypt. 2. “…by their hosts” – They were united as a complete unite consisting of six hundred thousand Israelites, which connected them to the Shechinah (Feminine in-dwelling presence). 3. “…under the hand of Moshe and Aharon.” Moshe is considered the tree through which the six hundred thousand Israelite souls would shine. Whenever they would travel everything holy similar to the holiness of the Israelites would be attached to them.[10]

Impure Environment – Perfect Backdrop for Elevation
The higher something is, the lower it falls. Today we are also surrounded by impurity all around us, making our world filled with negative lower forces – a perfect breeding place for fallen sparks. By strengthening emunah, and actively searching for Hashem in whatever situation and place we may be lost, we extract and elevate sparks.


Meditation:
Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes and breathe slowly. Let all thoughts and background noises pass through you, as you inhale and exhale slowly and rhythmically.

1. Visualize the word מַסְעַי/masai – my journeys.
Inhale מַסְ/mas, exhale עַי/ai.

2. Repeat over and over forty-two times, or as long as you have the strength.

3. Visualize the mem as a flowing stream of water, the samech as a protective enclosure during all your journeys. Reach new vistas with the eye of the ayin, and integrate it into your personal experience with the possessive yud, which stands for “my.” מַסְעַי/masai – my journeys.

4. Connect with the concept that Hashem brings you to key places, ordeals and crossroads in life in order to elevate you.

5. Go back in time – to the very first place you remember living. Realize how this place was an opportunity for tikun (rectification) and self-perfection.

6. Think about each of the challenges you faced in this place.

7. In your mind’s eye send Hashem’s light to each of these challenges, accepting that they were Divinely sent in order to purify you.

8. Allow yourself to access how each of these challenges helped you grow, which character-trait did they help you develop?

9. Reframe each challenge as being the best and most inspiring opening. Feel how it was sent by Hashem as an opportunity to connect even deeper with G-d and with the Divine aspect of yourself.

10. You may repeat step 5-9 with other places you lived, possibly in subsequent meditation sessions. Complete the meditation by sending Hashem’s light to each of the places you meditated on, and then send Hashem’s light to the place you live in now, realizing that where you are at this point in your life, is only due to everything you have gone through on all of your previous journeys.


Notes:
“These are the journeys of the Israelites, who had left Egypt”[11] on the way to the Holy Land. The forty-two journeys from Egypt to the Land of Israel parallel the phases each person experiences throughout life. Each journey is about freeing ourselves, transcending the constraints (Mitzrayim) which conceal G*d and His Divine light from us. Throughout each of our journeys we have the ability to subdue and sublimate the forces of evil that hold us back from achieving our spiritual potential. Let us be mindful throughout our journeys and phases in life, so that we may learn to harmonize between our body and soul, through open revelation of Hashem!

[1] Bamidbar 33:5-7.
[2] Sforno, Bamidbar 33:2.
[3] Bamidbar 9:20.
[4] Bamidbar 33:1.
[5] Devarim 8:15.
[6] Bereishit 1:2. “Desolate” corresponds to Babylon, “void” to Media, “darkness” to Greece, “upon the face of the depth” to Edom “the Spirit of G*d hovering over the water” to Mashiach (Bereishit Rabah 2:4)
[7] Netivat Shalom on Parashat Masei, pp. 185-186.
[8] See Shemot 12:36: “They despoiled the Egyptians.” Rashi: “They emptied it.” See also Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver, Beit Olamin, p. 134b: “The children of Israel elevated with them all he holy sparks that were in the husk of Egypt.” This is why it is not permitted to return to Egypt, since there are no more sparks to extract there. (Rabbi Naftali Hertz, Emek Hamelech, sha’ar 14, chapter 117).
[9] See Rashi, Devarim 1:46.
[10] This entire paragraph is based on Ohr Hachayim, (Rabbi Chayim Atar) on the Torah, Bamidbar 33:1.
[11] Bamidbar 33:1.