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

 

 

 

Hebrew Seminary Students post their High Holiday Homework

Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer teaches that each of us has the opportunity to create a Prayer Vision in preparation for the High Holidays.  “We need to visualize, think, and write down all the wonderful things that we want to happen to us in the New Year … and this is what I’m going to do for God in return.”  Below we share examples of this prayer vision process, as well as insights into HaShem’s 13 Attributes of Mercy, which we recite during the month of Elul and the High Holidays.

A Prayer Vision
By Student Rabbi Tirtzah Israel

The upcoming High Holy days, beginning with Rosh Hashanah through Simchat Torah, grants us the opportunity to reflect upon the blessings and challenges of the past year, while bestowing opportunities to revel in the prospect of renewal.  We let go of the old stuff in order to improve and to re-connect to our natural-selves.

As a candidate for rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Seminary, I envision for the upcoming year that I will be responsible for the following: (1) conduct Adult Education classes in the basics of Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism; (2) serve as an assistant rabbi at a Congregation providing life-cycle services and one-on-one Pastoral Counseling, and; (3) to further develop my private practice in the healing arts using the Kabbalah and Healing Meditations as taught by my mentor and teacher Rabbi, Dr. Douglas Goldhamer.

In return, what I will do for God is be more patient with myself, less judgmental and critical. I will develop deep self-compassion so that I will have compassion to give to others in my healing practice.  I believe, as my teacher reminded me, “you can’t give what you don’t have.”  I will focus my meditative energies towards understanding the divine attributes so that I can use those energies to activate connectivity and healing.

A Prayer Vision
By Student Rabbi Alison C. Brown

It feels as though some pretty wonderful things are already happening in my life this year.  My twin girls started college and so far, so good!  Now I have more time to focus on trying not to call or text them; to finishing my rabbinic thesis; and to worrying about the November elections!

Good health is of course my number one wish for my family and all those I share this planet with.  Good health is intricately connected to the health of our planet and I also wish for this, the good health of planet earth.  I count on God, on Makom, God’s manifestation in the physical world, for Her continuous creation.  Likewise, God counts on us, her human partners to protect creation.  In return for the gift of good health, I will work harder to live sustainably and support sustainable causes.  With prayers and blessings I will thank God for all that Her creation provides for me and I will try every day to minimize my environmental footprint.  I love and appreciate our farmlands and the farmers that tend them lovingly; I love and appreciate our Lake Michigan and the volunteers that protect it lovingly.  In return for these gifts this year, I will better consider my consumer choices.  (I’d give you examples, but I’m so spoiled it’s embarrassing!)

I also wish that in our upcoming November elections my fellow Americans will embrace our long- held values of equality, justice, safety and equal opportunity for all.  I wish that every eligible American registers to vote.  I wish that every registered voter votes.  I wish that those candidates who will fight for equality, justice, safety and equal opportunity for all will get elected.  The High Holidays continue throughout October; our elections are November 8th.  The timing is, I believe, besheirt (meant to be).  While we give thought to our personal vision for the New Year, we can soul search our vision for this great country and ask ourselves, “Can we take pride in the ongoing candidates’ political discourse and the values they represent?”  And, “What can I do to support the values I hold dear within the context of a democratic society?”  The Shechina embraces us all.  I too should try my best to embrace and be empathetic towards each and every person; so too should our elected officials.   In return for God’s support of my prayer vision, I will volunteer at voter registration drives and increase my volunteer commitments in general.  Additionally I will continue to practice and improve my Hebrew skills, as well as make time to practice the many Kabbalistic meditations that Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer has taught me, in hopes that my prayers will be more efficacious and my deeds less self-centered.

God’s 13 Attributes of Mercy
by Student Rabbi Sandra Charak

It is also suggested that we recite and meditate twice a day on Adonai’s 13 attributes of God during the month of Elul until Yom Kippur.  According to Kabbalah, Adonai is closest to us during this month, in spirit, energetically speaking.  The gematria of Elul אלול   equals 13 which is also love אהב. There are 13 attributes of Adonai, showing love to His children if they listen.  This is best illustrated on Yom Kippur when we get a chance to create a new contract with Adonai promising teshuvah, our turning, returning to God.  Any changes we promise to strive for, even minor ones as long as we are moving towards becoming better people, causes Adonai to smile.

Adonai’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, or His ethical attributes are repeated twice in the Torah, in Exodus and the prophet Micah, giving them extra important meaning.  These verses are the very core of the Selichot prayers said each day during Elul until Yom KippurS’licha means forgiveness.  During the month of Elul we do teshuvah knowing that we are all one and connected in God.

The Thirteen Attributes begins with Adonai, Adonai :

  1. יהוה

Adonai – compassion before a person sins;

  1. יהוה
    Adonai – compassion after a person has sinned;
  2. אל
    El – mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need,
  3. רחום
    Rachum – merciful, that humankind may not be distressed;
  4. חנון
    Chanun – gracious if humankind is already in distress;
  5. אפים ארך

Erech appayim – slow to anger;

  1. רב חסד
    Rav chesed –plenteous in mercy;
  2. אמת
    Emet – truth;
  3. לאלפים נצר חסד
    Notzer chesed laalafim – keeping mercy unto the thousands;
  4. נשא עון
    Noseh avon – forgiving iniquity;
  5. פשע נשא

Noseh peshah – forgiving transgression;

  1. חטאה נשא
    Noseh chatah – forgiving sin;
  2. ונקה
    Venakeh – and pardoning.

 

In Preparation for the High Holidays, Check Your Vision!

Part II, by Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

During the month of Elul, our Kabbalah teaches us that each of us needs to create a Prayer Vision.  That is we need to visualize, think, and write down all the wonderful things that we want to happen to us in the New Year.  When we create a prayer vision, our Kabbalah encourages us to create a vision of spirituality that is a vision in which we are doing good deeds, mitzvot and prayers in the coming year.  Inherent in our prayer vision and vision of spirituality is that we come to the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services with a written proposal in hand to God and we say it whispering very softly during two to three of the prayers: Hashem it is worth investing in my life and making my prayer vision a reality because this is what I’m going to do for you this year.  The return on investment (ROI) is definitely worth your while.  This is the contribution I intend to make to your global of tikkun olam.  You might propose, I will give more to the poor; I will help in the food pantry at my temple; I will become much more spiritual; or, just as I am doing Modeh Ani in Elul, I will do it regularly during the year; I will go to shul at least once a month; and/or I will read at least one book next year on Judaism.  A small investment of blessings by you on me will pay off because I will be generous in so many ways next year, you won’t regret your investment in me.

We write on the paper that we are bringing to shul what we promise to do to make this a kinder more gentler year, and in exchange we ask God to bless us with good health for us and our family; a strong financial earning for the coming New Year; and that the cancer that my family member is experiencing go into remission this year.

This prayer vision and proposal of spirituality should be written and spoken every day in the month of Elul and also during the silent prayers during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  The last thing we do to make Elul the most powerful spiritual month of the year, is to read Exodus 34: verses 6-7 in Hebrew.  The words in these verses contain highly charged vibrations that move Hashem to automatically send blessings to you when you recite them aloud during Elul.  With the reciting of these verses, you create a spiritual gravity wherein God cannot help but send down blessings for the entire year for you and your family.

All of this is what makes Elul the most powerfully charged spiritual month of the Hebrew calendar.  Do it and God will send to you great blessings which will heighten the power of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in your life.

Check Your Vision

 

You’ve Got Your High Holiday Tickets, but Before You

Consider What to Wear, Check Your Vision.

 

By Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

The month of Elul, the last month before the Jewish New Year is the most important theological month of the Jewish year.  In the month of Elul, God is closer to us than at any other time and our prayers are more powerful than at any other time, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

If we focus our thinking on God during the month of Elul, we will be so much in God’s thoughts that during the High Holiday services, when we pray in temple, we will “hear” God answer.  The word “hear” can be either hearing with your ears or feeling intensely a separate being inside of you speaking to you.  I pray so intensely during Elul that when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur comes around, I actually hear by feeling a separate being answer me who lives within me.  It is an amazing, frightening and yet inspiring moment.

We know it is our tradition to say the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon wakening, but if you say the Modeh Ani prayer during Elul you will feel the intensity of the prayer greatly.   You will feel the power of God flowing through you like in no other month.

Modeh (feminine: Modah) ani l’fanecha melech chai v’kayam shehechezarta bi nishmati bechemlah rabah emunatecha.

I thank you with my very being, living, enduring King, for restoring my Divine Soul to me in compassion.  You are faithful beyond measure.

The Modeh Ani prayer strongly opens the gates of our soul so that when we recite the Modeh Ani prayer during the month of Elul, God not only returns our soul to us every morning when we wake up, but our soul becomes so pure.  This is because, with a minyan of ten, the channels or gates open on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and we can hear God.  There are two channels to the soul that allow us to hear God, if these channels are open.  The first channel is Nefesh, that part of the soul that resides in our blood stream.  When that channel becomes open, it allows us to hear God from the bottom up.  The other channel that opens during Elul, when we recite the Modeh Ani, is that part of our soul called Neshama.  The Neshama resides in Keter, in the crown of our head.  When the channel Neshama opens, we hear God from the top down.  So on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashannah both channels open when we say the Modeh Ani during Elul and our godly experience is enormously intensified.  The Modeh Ani is the single most mystical prayer that is said in the month of Elul.

Here is the optimal way of saying the Modeh Ani meditation during month of Elul: 1) Say the Modeh Ani prayer.  2) While you are saying the prayer, there should be a concomitant internal dynamic that we are thanking God for the channel of the Neshama that opens up and allows the presence of God to come down to us from Ayn Sof (the One without End).  3) Also imagine that there is a channel within us, Nefesh within our bloodstream that opens up and allows God to enter into us from the bloodstream up through our whole body.  4)  Imagine a lighted candle before you.  Visualize it.  See it.  5)  With your eyes closed, imagine the candle coming closer and closer to you as you say “The light of the Lord is my soul.”  (Proverbs 20:27).  6)  Visualize the candle entering you, see yourself filled with the light of God augmented by God’s extra light coming down into you through Neshama and God’s additional light coming up to you through Nefesh.  Like a booster shot, God’s extra light adds punch and power to light you already have now with the two channels open.  Up and down, these two sparks ignite the light that already is in you.  Know that this Elul morning experience will have tremendous mystical ramifications on hearing God during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Watch for Part II Proposing a Prayer Vision!

 

Become A Channel of God’s Healing Energy Using the Name of God Yah

Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer’s teacher, Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Dresher taught:

“Your lungs expand and contract, responding to the universe.  Imagine the universe as a vast Being that is alive, and that you are a cell in this body.  And you, the cell, are kept alive by the Ru’ach of the universe.  In Ezekiel 36:26, we read, ‘I will place a holy Ru’ach within you.’”  This Ru’ach is the Spirit of God that every living being inhales, this Ru’ach is our breath; and it is through breathing that we focus on the present and not the past or future.  When we are in the NOW, we are alive, filled with the Breath of God.”

Become A Channel of God’s Healing Energy Using the Name of God Yah
as taught by Rabbi Goldhamer:

  1. Go to your mi’at meekdash and sit in a comfortable chair with your back in the upright position, and your feet planted firmly on the floor. Wear comfortable clothing and loosen up your tie or belt.
  2. Breathe in deeply and gently through your nostrils and count silently 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10: this is the numerical equivalent [Jewish Gematria/numerology] of Yod. As you breathe in, don’t try to visualize God’s breath coming in through your nostrils; instead, visualize with your ko’ach dimyon, imagination, that God’s breath or energy is filling your head area.
  3. Without holding your breath between inhaling and exhaling, exhale through your nostrils silently, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: this is the numerical equivalent of Hey. The exhaling should take half as long as the inhaling.  As you breath out, don’t try to visualize God’s breath leaving your nostrils; instead visualize God’s breath or energy flowing from your head into your heart and through your heart into the world.
  4. Repeat this cycle four times, for a total of five times for the entire meditation. When you inhale or exhale, maintain the internal dynamic that you are breathing in the Life Force of God, and that your breath and His breath are becoming One.  Recognize within the depths of your soul that you are becoming one with the Holy Spirit, Ru’ach HaKodesh.  When we breathe in God’s Ru’ach with kavvanah, we create Ru’ach HaKodesh; that is, we become One with the Holy Spirit.

Be Mindful of Miracles – They Are Accessible in Every Time and Every Place and by Every Person!

By Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

The great Hassidic rabbi Simcha Bunim suggests that the miracles that happen in the Torah did not happen only once in time and space. He states that Hashem’s miracles are accessible to be experienced in every time and every place and by every person.

I believe we need just to be open and aware that a Biblical miracle is not unique to the Bible in time and space, but it can happen with the same power today as it happened in Biblical times. All we need to do is to be mindful of where we are and what we see, and how we respond.

There is a wonderful meditative practice that is connected to mindfulness. This is called “Gazing.”  Gazing teaches that all things are inseparably connected, and we are never alone.  We are never separate from God.  When we think and feel this way, we enjoy an extraordinary spiritual experience known as Presence.  In physics, the idea of Presence is expressed in the theology of Energy. This means the entire universe is composed of the presence of Energy in various forms. Each cell in our body is a function of Energy. Every breath, every step, every movement, every relationship is an expression of Energy. We can’t separate ourselves from the source of Energy.

Imagine if we had miracle eyeglasses, that when worn, only allowed Energy to be seen. What we normally see as the specific miracle in the Bible could now, with these eyeglasses be seen as raw Energy.  And instead of seeing the Biblical miracle, we would put on these unique eyeglasses, and through a unique form of Gazing, we could be mindful of the Oneness of it all, and recognize that the fundaments element of the universe is love.

Imagine that a person who looks through the glasses recognizes that the glasses themselves are the same as what is being seen. It is all Energy. This is not too farfetched. Remember what Aristotle taught – God Is Thought Thinking Itself. And so, in our Torah, when we see a miracle, through mindful practice called Gazing, we can also recognize that we are all one.  Our Torah and its many miracles can be seen as appearing in a different form of Energy. Perhaps Rabbi Simcha Bunim is teaching there are miracles all around us, and they never clash because our Torah is not a historical narrative of our people, but a textbook of Spiritual Physics.

Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer is Senior Rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom, Skokie, and president and professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew Seminary, Skokie.