Elul – An Interview With Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Rabbi Goldhamer can you teach us more about the month of Elul? You have referred to this month as the most powerfully charged spiritual month of the Hebrew calendar.

Elul began on August 23rd this year. The Mishnah B’rura (a “clear” or simple version of the Jewish law book Shulchan Aruck) states that Song of Songs 6:3 is, according to the Rabbis, the most important text to meditate upon in the month of Elul. The first letter of the first four words of this verse spell Elul:

Ani l’dodi v’dodi lialeph-lamed-vuv- lamed

“I am connected to my beloved and my beloved is connected to me.” Elul is the time to nurture this closeness with God so that with faith and love we can immerse ourselves in the Days of Awe.

We can make our own meditation out of this verse. Visualize the letters of Elul aleph-lamed-vuv- lamed, with intention. The Rabbis were inspired by biblical verses in this way and originated their own meditations.

By pointing out the Song of Songs acronym, both the Shulchan Aruck and Mishnah B’rura, teach us that all of our thoughts should be directed to God during the month of Elul. Elul has more theological power than any other month. This is a good time to focus on healing prayers for your family, on what you need to pursue your goals and on what you need to become the better person you wish to be. When you say the silent prayers on Yom Kippur remind God of the prayers you said during Elul – this request is the “closer.”

In your most recent book, Healing With God’s Love, you included a chart that listed the tetragrammaton YHVH permutation for each month. You noted that, “If I am saying a prayer in the month of Elul, for example, I first recite the prayer as written, and then repeat the prayer, this time visualizing the appropriate Hebrew permutation of YHVH for Elul, HHVY, י ו ה ה when I say the word Adonai and so on.”

This is one of the strongest ways to connect with God. The Hebrew letters are not symbols. When you visualize the tetragrammaton and the corresponding permutations you are seeing the face of God. Permutations are like the different faces of us throughout the day, just as our face changes, God’s face changes. When we do the permutation for Elul we are connecting with God face to face.

You also wrote, “We need to turn from preoccupation with the self to an embracing of the Whole. We need to be aware that we are all connected not only to one another, but to God. We need to be aware of our own Divinity.” How might we do this during the soul searching month of Elul?

Today we seem to see everything as separate, for example, some identify as white supremacists and some as neo-Nazis. We separate ourselves, just as others separate from us.  We see good people separating themselves from their neighbors. Some parents say, don’t play with the neighbors two houses to the left of us but, to the right of us are children of a professor and you should play with them. It is made very clear in our Hebrew books that you are who you hate. When parents teach separation, their children grow to dislike their neighbors and you are that neighbor! Rabbi Akiva said, why do we love our neighbor as our self, because we are our neighbor. We are not only one with God but we are one with our neighbors.

In the news today we are “good” and “you” are bad.  We can’t live life that way. We are One with everyone — with God and with the angels. We are not separate.

The commentary to every Biblical text that references hate or separation is “We are One” and “you are who you hate.” Sefer Sha’arei Kedushah, The Gates of Holiness by Rabbi Chaim Vital, says this throughout the text.

There is one Whole in the world and when we recognize that, there will be no war. It takes time to get there and we may not feel we are One with everyone. Intellectually I know I am one with the Palestinians and the neo-Nazis but it takes time, practice and meditation to feel we are One.

This is what all the Kabbalistic texts teach us. When God created the world He created a Whole but he embraced separation — He made the heavens and earth, day and night. God recognized it would be easier for people to live with separations. How could Adam say ‘I am like Eve’ when she looks so different from him? The same with day and night, they look so different.  That’s why we study the commentaries and Kabbalistic texts. They take the Torah and the Talmud and show how we can go from the world of separation to the world of Whole — It takes meditation and study. We have to work toward Wholeness, it doesn’t come automatically. I know it is hard. It takes practice.

We human beings graduate from separation to Wholeness through meditation. Think on “you are who you hate.” For Elul, meditate on it.

Summer Movies and Prophecy

After not seeing any movies all spring, my husband and I have been to four movies in as many weeks. What a treat! Tucked within the barrage of predominately action, adventure and horror previews is a trailer for Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” sequel. While he would eschew the comparison, I thought of former Vice President Gore’s perseverance when I read this week’s Haftarah from Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah warned and prophesized that riches and power have no real value. He reminded the people that God, “brought you into a land of plentiful fields, to eat its fruit and goodness; but when you entered, you defiled My land, and made my heritage abhorrent….” (Jeremiah 2:7)

You know where I am going with this. I could say nonjudgmentally and with compassion that it is right to make money through whatever means you have the opportunity to do so. At the same time, I could compassionately say it is also right to resist your local government agency’s inclination to sell public land to a developer. But this reminds me of philosopher Ken Wilber’s discussion about “idiot compassion.” This sounds harsh I know and it certainly is right and important to listen to both sides of a disagreement. In Jeremiah’s time the opposing positions were God’s ways vs. idolatry. In our time the positions are enabling (through ordinances, legislation and executive order) individuals to make money at the expense of our natural resources vs. an economy driven by environmental sustainability. It is not compassionate, and therefore not right, to dump toxic particulates into our drinking water.

The people did not listen to Jeremiah. Both Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple were destroyed. Our Torah offers paths to redemption we might be mindful of today. The law of Bal Tashhit, when taking a city in times of war you may eat from, but not destroy, trees. This Jewish law illustrates that the world has social utility. The world feeds, clothes and shelters us. The world does not exist for private gain, the world is held in common for all of us. “The pious will not suffer the loss of a single seed in the world, whereas the wicked rejoice at the destruction of the world,” (Sefer Ha-hinnukh, The Book of Education.)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch commenting on Leviticus 25:34 writes: “Precisely because it [the city with its open spaces] has been given to them for all the generations, no generation is permitted to change it as it sees fit. The present generation is not the sole ruler over it, but the future generations are equal in their rights, and each is required to bequeath it to future generations in the same state in which they received it.”

We are slaves to “top-down” influences as neuropsychiatrist as Dan Siegel explains, “that is to say we have a sensation but the response is set up by earlier experience and embedded beliefs about right and wrong, good and bad.  These top-down influences have had huge survival value in our evolutionary history in that they enable the brain to make rapid assessments and carry out efficient information processing to then initiate behaviors that enable the organism to survive.” Siegel refers here to foraging for food and evading predators. The times we experience today are culturally driven and contemporary culture dictates top-down that we buy into the consumer culture and not to worry that very few are really benefiting from the wanton destruction to our environment.

Last night we had 5-7 inches of rain in many of Lake County’s suburban towns. People were stranded inside and outside their homes and it continued to rain all day today. Ask your insurance agent if their pricing has factored in climate science findings. They do, and this industry is all about risk assessment and capital accumulation. Capital accumulation and honoring the environment are not mutually exclusive.

Einstein wrote, “A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness…. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Let me leave you with a chant from Rabbi Shefa Gold that will remind you, “As we delight in the garden of this moment, let us attune to the Source of its vitality and beauty.”

V’nahar yotzei mei’Eden, l’hashkot et hagan.

A river comes forth from Eden to water the garden. (Genesis 2:10)

Balance the Energy of Divinity & Humanity

By Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Alef Meditation #2

SO THAT WE ARE A CHANNEL THROUGH WHICH THE ENERGY OF DIVINITY AND HUMANITY FLOW IN BALANCE.

  1. As with all meditative exercises, it is important to do your meditations in a room where you have created your ―Small Sanctuary,‖ your miat meek-dash. It‘s also important that you do this meditation with kavvanah , knowing that God is all around you.
  2. Sit in a relaxed, comfortable upright chair with both of your feet planted firmly on the floor.
  3. Sit relaxed, breathing slowly in and out with your eyes closed. Be conscious of your breathing.
  4. Look at the letter Alef . See how it is composed and made up of a vertical Vav and two Yods, an upper Yod and a lower Yod.
  5. Look at the letter Alef on your page. Study it. With your eyes closed, imagine the letter Alef much larger than on the page. It encompasses the complete room. The Alef is made of two colors—purple and green, the colors of the healing angel Rafael. The vertical Vav is purple, the two Yods are green.
  6. Visualize the purple and green Alef – it‘s huge and encompasses the whole room.
  7. Look at the lower Yod. Visualize it. It is our physical world. Receive it. Walk into it—don‘t be afraid. It is filled with green energy. Receive its energy. This is the energy of Nefesh Behamit, Lower Reality, or our world, our universe, our physical universe, the green earth and the seas and the sky, all the stars and the galaxies. As you receive the energy of the Lower World, our world, know that there are spiritual worlds that correspond to our physical world. The worlds of Yetzirah and Briah. These are the worlds of Angels and souls. Receive the energy of these worlds into your soul also. Perhaps you can see the healing angel Rafael here with his green and purple wings. Stay in this lower world Yod. Receive the vibrations of our universe, physical and spiritual, within your soul.
  8. Now visualize the Vav that separates the Lower Worlds and the world of God. This is like a veil that separates our consciousness from God consciousness. Receive its energy. Visualize its purple energy. This is the energy of TIFERET, the energy of Balance, balancing the energy of the Lower Worlds with the energy of the Upper Worlds.
  9. Now, float up into the upper Yod, Higher Reality. Visualize it and receive it. Receive the energy of Nefesh Elohit,the Celestial World of God, the world of Atzilut. Dissolve your ―I‖ into the ―Greater I.‖ Become one with the One. Feel completely connected with the One. Feel the consciousness of the Higher Yod. Feel your consciousness attach to the Higher Consciousness. The energy of the Lower Worlds and the energy of the Higher Worlds share the same color green, because both are really one. Enjoy feeling connected with the ONE. Completely receive the energy of the Upper World of Atzilut. This is the world of God Consciousness.
  10. When you are ready, float down into the Vav. Enjoy receiving the healing Purple energy of Vav, and when you are ready again, float down into the lower Yod. See its green color. Know that even though you are in the Lower Yod, you are part of the Upper Yod.
  11. When you leave the Lower Yod, and you step back, you will see the whole Alef. The only true reality—look at the Alef. Meditate on it with its purple Vav and two green Yods; know that the Alef is an expression of God‘s Unity and God‘s balance within you. As you look at the Alef, meditate on the oneness of the spiritual and the physical and know that your consciousness and God consciousness are One. As you visualize the Alef from the outside with its diagonal purple Vav and two green Yods, know and intuit and feel that your Upper Reality and your Lower Reality are in balance. Remember a healthy person is a person whose sense of Divinity and sense of Humanity are in balance. When God breathed the breath of life into us, we became both human and Divine at the same time. The Alef represents this dichotomy within us, just as Dr. Dresher‘s gertel reminds him that the human being is a channel that unites and separates heaven and earth. The Alef reminds us that every one of us is a channel through which the energy of Divinity and humanity flow in balance.

 

Korach’s and the Country’s Accounting

Korach, Numbers 16:01-18:32
by Hebrew Seminary Executive Director Alison C. Brown

In contemporary commentary, Korach is sometimes described as a demagogue. Just as often, Talmud Brachot 58a is quoted: “Just as the faces of people do not exactly resemble one another, so too their opinions do not exactly resemble one another.” In our time, just about everyone, leaders on both sides of the aisle included, can be accused of responding with demagoguery. In our time, Brachot 58a can serve as a mantra to remind us that we do perhaps live in only one of multiple universes, i.e. the world does not revolve around us. Life includes infinite possibilities, an opinion that I endlessly repeat. Possibility is my working definition of God too. This definition excludes nothing and is itself nothing – Ayn Sof, the One without End.

Yet, just because all is possible doesn’t mean we don’t need to do heshbon ha-nefesh, an accounting of the soul. All of the characters of our parsha this week surely weighed and measured their motives, at least after they responded if not before. Acting from possibility also allows us to, after an accounting of the soul, to apologize and try to make right our careless words and actions. “To me they’re not even people,” illustrates the level of political discourse and conflict in America’s book of life today.

Another useful mantra comes from Nachmanides, “Get into the habit of always speaking calmly to everyone. This will prevent you from anger…[then]…Once you have distanced yourself from anger, the quality of humility will enter your heart.” By mantra I mean, phrases repeated over and over like a chant, as it occurs to you, throughout your day. You breathe and imbibe these inspirational words of your choosing and they become who you are. Humility rarely leads one to demean or exclude others. Our choices wire our brain to repeat that choice. Choose from life’s possibilities with humility. Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz writes, “A mitzvah does not exist in a vacumn…but rather, brings other mitzvot in its wake,”

“CS Lewis rightly defined humility not as thinking less of yourself but as thinking of yourself less,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us. “[Great leaders] are motivated by ideals, not by personal ambition….in Judaism, to lead is to serve. Those who serve do not lift themselves high. They lift other people high.” Those I consider leaders, among them Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer of course, are servant leaders by speaking from and role-modeling the possibility and importance of being our best self. We read Torah to learn how to be our best self, we practice heshbon ha-nefesh (perhaps as a nightly journaling routine) to move toward our best self, and we think of ourself less often as an act of anavah, humble modesty.

Being our best self isn’t easy to be sure. We have to love and be compassionate with ourselves as psychologists have discovered, integrated into modern therapies and augmented with meditations and mantras. Rabbi Jill Zimmerman notes, “Every time our heart opens and we then reach out to another human being, blessing flows from us.  We desperately need as much blessing as all of us can conjure up — not only for others, but for our own bruised souls.” Rabbi Zimmerman has created a Jewish version of the Buddhist Metta practice of loving kindness that I was taught by Sharon Salzburg and will now practice in the language of my people. Key this mantra into a note on your phone and repeat whenever you get the chance. As the Rabbi says, “Start with 5 minutes a day.  Start with yourself.

In Hebrew, we might say something like this [an example of openness and humility!]:

May I feel safe (b’tachon) בטחון

May I feel content (see’pook) סיפוק

May I feel strong (oz) עוז

May I feel peace (shalom) שלום ”

 

 

We Are One

How to Identify the Inner I with the Greater I

A meditation taught by Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer from Healing With God’s Love.

Find a comfortable place and use this room, or part of this room, as your holy sanctuary. You should meditate in the same room every day, as then you will increase the energy in that place. The ancient Kabbalists call such a special place your mi’at meekdash – small holy place.

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair with your back upright and your feet on the floor. Loosen any belt or tie or clothing that might bind you. Close your eyes.
  2. Focus on your breath. Be aware of your inhaling and your exhaling. Do this for about two minutes.
  3. Breathe in gently, slowly and deeply, through your nostrils a long breath. Hold your breath for a few seconds and, as you exhale through your mouth, pronounce the ah sound, feeling it vibrate deeply in your belly.
  4. Breathe in gently, slowly and deeply, through your nostrils a long breath. Hold your breath for a few seconds and, as you exhale through your mouth, pronounce the no sound, feeling it vibrate deeply in your heart area.
  5. Breathe in gently, slowly and deeply, through your nostrils a long breath. Hold your breath for a few seconds and, as you exhale through your mouth, pronounce the khey sound, feeling it vibrate inside your head.
  6. Do this meditation ten times.

With this meditation we identify the Inner I within us with the Greater I of the Universe, that is, the Shechina within us with the transcendent male aspect of God, and so we become one with God. We see ourselves and we return to the recognition that we are not alone, we are not separate, but we are one with God.

The Earth As Sanctuary

From the Pen of Executive Director Alison C. Brown

Parsha Tezaveh discusses the materials and steps necessary to perform service to God in the Sanctuary. As a metaphor, “Achieving any form of spiritual growth requires sustained effort and daily rituals.” [1] We call this avodah, service. Our intentional efforts and rituals create a space, a groove, carved into our life through practice that allows a flow of ideals into actions.

Just as water naturally flows to join its watershed, so too practiced meditation and prayer flows through our thoughtscape along God created paths of peace and purpose. Perhaps these paths run parallel to biological paths of self-preservation and bias, but meditation, prayer and ritual creates neuropathways that we can utilize to do our avodah, our service. These paths of compassion lead to doing right by others and doing right by creation. The earth is our sanctuary and so many of our mitzvoth recognize that with rituals of appreciation.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch writes of Exodus 28:33:

“The numerous seeds inside pomegranates symbolize a life full of active duties, which are the fruit that ripen in the field of earthly life. The diversity of the duties corresponds to the diversity of life itself, and all of man’s various traits and qualities have a role to play in the fulfillment and realization of all these duties.” [2]

Our duties are as numerous as the diversity of life itself and it is life itself that we seem to take for granted. Since Tu B’Shevat, I’ve been worried that our duty to the earth will be neglected under the stress of all else that is at stake these 2017 legislative sessions. However when I recently visited my twin daughters at college in Iowa, I found front page headlines that usurped all other news and called dramatic attention to the fundamental need for reducing nitrate levels in our surface waters.

The article included a stunning photograph of the Atlantic Watershed as it flows pollution-laden into the already oxygen-deprived Gulf of Mexico.   The report read, “Momentum for improving the quality of Iowa’s degraded water peaked Nov. 8, when 74 percent of Linn County voters approved a $40 million conservation bond.” [3]  Caring for the earth is on the radar in Iowa because the voters understand how interconnected we are to the environment.

Consider utilizing your meditation and prayer flowing neuropathways to brainstorm and advocate with your legislators and friends about environmental concerns in your state. A number of agencies and hard-won regulations are on the line as you read this. The earth is our sanctuary and she needs you to nurture and protect her life-giving, God given flow.

Weaving Our Thoughts With a Wise Heart

From the Pen of Executive Director Alison C. Brown

It is said that the tabernacle described in Exodus is a metaphor for our inner realms, the way our spirit works together with our mind to negotiate life.  Parsha Terumah delineates the myriad details necessary to construct the Tabernacle.  Commentators note, “God’s presence is not found in a building.  It is found in the hearts and the souls of the people ….”   It is our spirit, soul and mind that fashions a tabernacle, a mishkan, for God’s presence.   Accordingly, our thoughts must be intentionally fashioned.

Later Torah verses describe the making of Aaron’s priestly vestments including the ephod (a short coat “girded” on over other garments).  The ephod, say commentators, protects the wearer against the dangers of idolatry and symbolizes a right relation between man and God.  Those who were “skillful” (hochme-lev, wise of heart) would cunningly “weave” (hoshev, thinking) gold with blue, purple and crimson yarns into the ephod’s fine linen.   These materials were woven with thought and a wise heart to create a relationship with God.  Our relationship with God includes our thoughts.   If my microwave is beeping to remind me of the coffee I reheated, I can either weave thoughts of annoyance because the beeping won’t stop and I’m busy or I can skillfully and cunningly weave thoughts of appreciation for the gift of coffee and offer up this moment of thankfulness to the Source of Being.  A mind, spirit and soul steeped in prayer and meditation will default to the latter.

What if we took care of our spirit as we, often without thinking about it, take care of our body?  Create a Jewish practice.  Five minutes here and five minutes there creates space for a mishkan, a place inside that is nurturing.  That is what the Torah alludes to.  “Make Me a sanctuary for Me to dwell in.”  There is a space inside of us that is dynamic, upstanding and attuned to the One-ness.  Think about that when you walk down the hall at work. There is a space inside of us that is dynamic, upstanding and attuned to the One-ness.

Learn to hear the still small Voice of God

Learn to hear the still small Voice of God.

Experience the ease of your Greater Mind.

It takes practice.

Be inspired to practice.  In his online video course, Enriching Your Life Through Kabbalah, Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer will teach you how to access higher levels of consciousness and draw on the energies found there.

The course is free!

Registration and related course information about this remarkable online 4–part, self-scheduled video is available at HebrewSeminary.org.

For more information about Hebrew Seminary
call 847/ 679-4113.

Kabbalistic Services: Saturday Morning Supercharger!

Our lab school, Congregation Bene Shalom invites you to join them for Saturday morning Kabbalistic services.  These services are quite wonderful in that they offer not only scholarship in Jewish meditation but Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer also makes every effort to compare Jewish meditation with other meditation systems.

All are welcome!  Saturdays at 10:30 am:
February 25
March 11
March 25
April 8
April 22
May 13
June 10
June 24
Congregation Bene Shalom
4435 West Oakton, Skokie, IL
www.beneshalom.org 847-677-3330

A prayerful, joyful, spiritual experience led by Dr. Rabbi Goldhamer, Rabbi Chen, and Cantorial Soloist Charlene Brooks

Lech Lecha, Go to Your Authentic Self

 

From the pen of Hebrew Seminary Executive Director Alison Brown

First thing every morning my mind begins its chatter. What is the order of my day? What needs doing at work? What needs doing after work? In my mind tasks skirmish for priority. On the occasion that I disengage, I pat myself on the head with compassion. The mind works loves to conjure up problems and solve them. We are master puzzlers! It is no wonder that we are drawn to the practices of meditation and mindfulness.

People need space. We need space to Lech Lecha, to “go to yourself” in the words of Genesis 12:1. Jewish practices can support this effort to get in touch with our best self, our piece of the divine truth, to then go forth moment-by-moment, interaction-by-interaction to make a better world, if only through kindness. I hope to get in touch with myself so that I can act as often as possible from no-self.

Chaim Vital wrote that, “Every person must search and discover the root of his soul, so he can fulfill it and restore it to its source, its essence. The more one fulfills himself, the closer he approaches his authentic self.”

Our authentic self can be radically free and empty. In this state of consciousness there is no me and you. I am you.

After school yesterday my daughter shared something of her workload with me. Sometimes, having practiced lech lecha, I am able to listen from my authentic self. If I spoke from my chattering self, I would proceed to direct my daughter. When you get home do this, don’t take a break until you get this done, be sure you get plenty of sleep, so on and so forth. Speaking from my authentic self, my empty and full of wonder self, I empathize and offer the thought that she be compassionate with herself. I am confident that she will be her best self. She has no need for my chattering self.

A wise man knows nothing – well, maybe one song — Ikkyu