Even Adam Kvetched About the Long Winter Nights!

We all know the story of Hanukkah. But, there is another narrative that many of us don’t know. Last week, Hebrew Seminary faculty member Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub taught us a lesser known story that prominently features Adam.

The better known Hanukkah story is derived from the Babylonia Talmud, Shabbat 21b. The text tells us that the Greeks entered our Temple and defiled all of the oil in the Sanctuary. When the Hasmonean monarchy rose up, defeated the Greeks and entered the Temple they found one remaining vial of oil sealed with the imprimatur of the high priest. This vial, as expected, contained oil for only one day. The Hasmoneans lit the oil and it burned for eight days and nights. The following year an eight day holiday was established for hallel, praise and thanksgiving. This text has given rise to the widely known interpretation that Hanukkah is about the miracle of the oil, defeating oppression and celebrating religious freedom.

Talmud Avodah Zarah 8a tells an alternative Hanukkah story that portrays Hanukkah as Adam’s encounter with the winter solstice (translation from Sefaria.org.)

“ר לפי שראה אדם הראשון יום שמתמעט והולך אמר אוי לי שמא בשביל שסרחתי עולם חשוך בעדי וחוזר לתוהו ובוהו וזו היא מיתה שנקנסה עלי מן השמים עמד וישב ח’ ימים בתענית [ובתפלה]

With regard to the dates of these festivals, the Sages taught: When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: “And to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer.

We read on:

כיון שראה תקות טבת וראה יום שמאריך והולך אמר מנהגו של עולם הוא הלך ועשה שמונה ימים טובים לשנה האחרת עשאן לאלו ולאלו ימים טובים הוא קבעם לשם שמים והם קבעום לשם עבודת כוכבים

Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengthening after the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed both these eight days on which he had fasted on the previous year, and these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven, but they, the gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship.

Our text makes reference to the festivities of later generations because Adam’s two observances resemble the pagan Roman holidays Calenda and Saturnalia. It could be said that the Rabbis use this opportunity to trace these “revisionist” festivals back to Adam who established them for the sake of Heaven, that is giving thanks to God, whereas the Romans established them for the sake of the stars, i.e. idolatry.

While Avodah Zarah 8a doesn’t overtly mention Hanukkah, this text ties Hanukkah to the winter solstice and Adam. Hanukkah then did not begin with the Hasmoneans, it started with Adam. We offer this lesser known Hanukkah story in recognition of the salient symbol here – the gift of increasing light. In many ways this text establishes a universal holiday. We wish you all Ramadanadawalichristmakwaanzukkah!™

 

Toldot & Thanksgiving

by Alison C. Brown, Executive Director

Fear not, while it currently feels as though some of our world leaders have purposefully severed our ancestral roots, I suspect every generation feels that way.

Parashah Toldot is a Jewish narrative about our ancestral roots and serves as another installment in the guide to being fully human. Together with the many Jewish texts redacted and commented upon over the millennia, there is no misconstruing the values that bind us.

Our ancestors live within us. We connect with and build upon the consciousness of previous generations. To borrow an image from science, we need only connect to the stardust of which we are all made. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev taught a general principle that wherever we go, we go to our roots. Pull the camera out to include contemporary times: we may move or change jobs, but our roots accompany us. To access our roots for decision making we need b’hirut hasaichel, clarity of reason. Through prayer, meditation and mindfully being in the present moment we experience an unchanging awareness and clarity of reason that is divine. We can practice and learn to experience rehovot, spaciousness. Rabbi Shefa Gold writes that, “The well of our ancestors becomes a fountain connecting the dark depths of our human story with the wide skies of awareness.”

Not to get off topic, but the Buddhists are right, life is suffering. The human story includes dark depths. Some of them stem from severed roots. We find our way back through the breath and faith. In Psalms 150, verse 6, our ancestors teach, “Let all that breathes praise the Lord. Hallelujah.” Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer adds, “The action of breathing in and breathing out indicates the continuous Presence of God in our life.” In the Jewish narrative darkness is balanced by the light. Hallelujah!

In the ancestral narrative of Toldot, “Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of living water.” The well symbolizes, Rabbi Norman Lamm suggests, “the great well of personality and being that beckons us to access what we might learn from its depths.” My well of being is sometimes muddy. I feel weighed down by tons of earth. I have so many things I want to do and need to do. When I move the stone to access the living waters I am distracted by thoughts of list-making and judgement. To escape this suffering of my own making, I must begin my day practicing rehovot, spaciousness. A well of clear living waters can later reveal b’hirut hasaichel if we make time to intentionally be in the present. In the flowing, the breath and the stardust we coexist with our ancestors and the divine.

Our ancestral roots offer fundamental beliefs to guide our behavior. Judaism also invites us to question these beliefs. “Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt”, wrote renowned therapist Dr. Rollo May. “To every thesis there is an antithesis, and to this there is a synthesis. Truth is thus a never-dying process.” When we live or legislate with severed roots, truth dies. James Joyce wrote, “Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” In my interpretation, consciousness is forever evolving within each of us and the smithy of my soul coexists with my ancestors and the Divine. Welcome, O life!

In 2017, we encounter the ancestors of Toldot just before Thanksgiving. This American holiday makes me think of the Amidah. During the Amidah, we bow before and after Avot, the blessing of the Patriarchs, and before and after the berachah of Hoda’ah, a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Rav Kook wrote that bowing our head, “signals an attitude of deference and humility.” In bowing, as in breathing, we acknowledge and give thanks to God and our ancestors.

And let us together pray privately:

Talmud Berakhot 17a

By Lawrence Kushner (translator)

May you live to see your world fulfilled,
May your destiny be for worlds still to come,
And may you trust in generations past and yet
to be.
May your heart be filled with intuition
and your words be filled with insight.
May songs of praise ever be upon your tongue
and your vision be on a straight path before you.
May your eyes shine with the light of holy words
and your face reflect the brightness of the heavens.
May your lips speak wisdom
and your fulfillment be in righteousness
even as you ever yearn to hear the words
of the Holy Ancient One of Old.

Go Forth To Your Deeper Self by Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Lech Lecha, Genesis 12-17:27

The opening scripture of this week’s Torah portion Lech Lecha, “Go forth from your native land, from your kindred, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1) has a number of different translations and meanings.  In the literal translation of the text, God calls Abram (this takes place before his name is changed to Abraham) to drop everything, leave his family, leave his friends, leave his community and to wholeheartedly trust in God’s call, because God is leading Abram to a chosen country that God wishes for Abram and his descendants.  The Ma’or Vashemesh reads the expression “Lech Lecha” (Go Forth) as a call addressed to every person to penetrate beyond the more external aspects of the Self to his deeper, inner self, which can be identified as an aspect of the Divine.

In this text, we are privileged to see two interpretations of this Divine verse:  one that is behavioral and one that is psychological.  When God tells Abram to “pay attention to Me for your own benefit,” God is teaching him that he should understand and pay attention to the way he travels and does things. Hashem loves Abram so much that He teaches him to focus on his behavior, as a father does with his son.

But. Hashem also wants Abraham to examine his spiritual state and elevate it.  When we internalize God’s loving commands, we recognize that these two interpretations depend on one another. Our behavior, when we improve it, inspires in us a higher spiritual awareness. And a higher spiritual awareness inspires a higher spiritual behavior. When we understand the relationship between spirituality and behavior, we know that this is no ordinary text, but it is indeed a book given by God, inspired by God and even written by God.  How blessed are the people of Israel.

This weekend, I have a perfect example of two potential meanings for “Lech Lecha” (Go Forth). On Saturday morning, at our Kabbalistic Shabbat service at Congregation Bene Shalom, we will practice meditations created by the great Hasidic master the Baal Shem Tov.  We will “go forth”-into ourselves. We will dig deep into our own souls.  We learn in the Zohar, Sitrei Torah 1:66b, that the Neshoma or Divine Soul is identified with Abram. The Baal Shem Tov, embracing this Zohar, taught that the Neshoma is not happy to come down to this material world of change. The Neshoma enjoys the spiritual realm, where it lives at One with God. In Keter Shem Tov, the Baal Shem Tov teaches that the Neshoma is afraid of the uncertainties of the material realm, but God insists that the Neshoma leave heaven to come down to perfect the body and the entire world. Therefore, God commands the NeshomaLech Lecha, Go to yourself,” which the Baal Shem Tov, teaches as “to yourself, for your own tikkun or perfection.”

And on Sunday, October 29, we wll celebrate the ordination of Tirtzah Israel from Hebrew Seminary.  Our seminary is now celebrating its 25th anniversary, and I am very proud to ordain Rabbi Israel.  She has been an outstanding student—who has gone forth from her physical persona of an African-American hard-of-hearing woman—and she has gone forth to discover her spiritual connection to God and to her Jewish identity and her connection to the Jewish community. After Sunday, she will physically go forth to embrace a new life as a leader of the Jewish people.

From the second verse of this week’s parasha, we learn an even more inspiring bit of wisdom.  In Genesis 12:2, God says, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, … and you will be a blessing.”  In the first verse, God’s name is expressed as YHVH, which gives the connotation of a God of love and blessing.  In the second verse, God’s name is expressed as VHYH.  According to the great Kedushat Levi, this text proves that our actions can bring joy and great blessing to the Holy One. This gives us humans great power, since God’s response to our action, is the gushing forth of Divine blessing (shefa) and joy.  This reciprocal blessing has greatly improved the world and the relationship between God and mankind.  Abraham was the first person to reverse the flow of blessing from below to above, reflected in the word “VHYH” which is the inverse of YHVH.  Because of Abraham’s actions, we have one of the great spiritual laws of the Universe:  Our good actions necessarily cause God to send blessings down to us.

It took the power of Abraham’s kindness to arouse God’s blessings from above and to inspire the Israelites’ blessing from below; that is, the Hebrew letters of the Tetragrammaton inspired the Israelites love from below to above. From the time that Abraham arrived as God’s great prophet and patriarch, there was arousal of the Shefa.  This is an amazing gift that God gave to the Universe.

When I sit down with my class and discuss with my students the amazing texts that God lays before us, asking us to govern our lives with these commandments, I feel so blessed and so honored to be one of the world’s teachers of Torah.

So  often students will ask me if spirituality is an integral part of our religion.  I can only answer with a smile on my heart, saying that spirituality is not only an inintegral part of our faith, but it is the most essential part of our teachings. And we are enormously blessed to have this teaching from this Torah.

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

 

Rosh Hashana – Taking Root With You!

Sefer Assiyah
The Book of Making

September 2017

Recently, on an extraordinarily mild and sunny day in Chicagoland, I went to a nature center with my son and grandson. We peered and searched through aquariums, terrariums and pools of water — home to local critters. We spent a lot of time with the turtles – who knew they were such adept communicators when stressed out with their roommates?!?!

We also walked the boardwalks and trails strewn with half-eaten acorns. I did not see my grandson’s pockets full of them! Yes, I can pretend minor infractions like ‘don’t pick the wildflowers,’ don’t really count, but we were nearing fall. It was Elul and Rosh Hashanah’s accounting was approaching.

Rosh Hashanah is like an acorn upon the ground. It awaits the coming year in the cycle of life. Its growth depends on rain and microbial rich soil, just as we water our hopes and nurture our souls in anticipation of our dreams establishing roots in the coming year.

The Talmud says, “On Rosh Hashanah, all the inhabitants of the earth stand before God, as it says in the Thirty-third Psalm, ‘[God] fashions their hearts as one, and discerns all their actions together.’” Rosh Hashanah brings the choice of all choices – did I actively choose to learn and grow towards becoming a better person and what will I do with the opportunity to walk the earth in the coming year?

As much as I would like to bask in the sun and hibernate in a womb of soil as the seasons turn, more is expected of me. The gift of consciousness gave me the blessing and the curse of seeking more to life as well as the awareness that there are sacred parameters and goals – i.e. God, as best as we can intuit Her. As Rabbi Alan Lew wrote, “The central imperative of Judaism, I believe, is to recognize and manifest the sacred in everything we do and encounter in the world.” I’ve often wondered how I can live with the grace and confidence of an oak tree, an orchid or a heron. I think this Jewish imperative is the way.

“Ethically speaking, these Days of Awe picture us standing in the full light of God’s scrutiny and wondering if we have remained true to the purpose for which we were created,” writes Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman. “Have we taken proper responsibility for the world, or has our selfishness overcome our altruism?” Looking the other way as one stuffs their pockets full of acorns is a metaphor. Yes, there’s a line between unfaltering, holier than thou rightness and holding life lightly aware of its sacredness. One approach separates us and one embraces us all. On Rosh Hashanah God fashions our hearts as one. This is the world’s birthday. We are Adam Kadmon. We are all one soul and responsible for each other. We are a collective species; a collective holographic universe of Five Worlds.

And what stands between us? Rebbe Shapira writes, “’And I stand between God and you’ (Deuteronomy 5:5.) The Baal Shem Tov explained this to mean that the ‘I’ – the ego, the sense of selfness that we feel and that drives us to seek only our own selfish needs – is what stands between God and one’s true self – the soul. But how do we get past the barrier imposed by the ego-self? Only by mutually nurturing relations with other human beings – you cannot do it by yourself. This is also alluded to in the verse ‘And I stand’ – when I stand by myself, then there is the barrier ‘between God and man.’”

I am a cup in the Friend’s hand.
Look in my eyes. The one who holds me
is none of this, but this that is so filled
with images belongs to that one who is without form….

— Rumi

Just as we can’t picture God, we can’t always picture our best selves, but I believe that I am good, just as you are.

It takes people like you and me,
working to make ourselves kinder and more loving,
to produce positive change in the world.

— Londro Rinzler

 

http://www.wikihow.com/Grow-an-Oak-Tree-from-an-Acorn

L’Shana Tovah!

Alison

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.

Divine Your Words

By Alison C. Brown

This week we begin to read the first and only book of the Chumash that it is written in first person. Moses had so surrendered his ego to the Divine that his words were also God’s words, explain the commentators of this week’s parsha Devarim.

“Moses’ utter identification with the divine wisdom empowers our own lesser souls, each of which possesses ‘a spark of the soul of Moses,’ to do the same (albeit on a lesser level): to create of ‘our own words’ receptacles for the divine wisdom,” writes Rabbi Yanki Tauber.

This interpretation strengthens the possibility that we might make our thoughts worthy to ascend the Four Worlds to God, as Kabbalists assert they do. At the meta-level, what we think matters, what we think empowers our lesser souls and the world of which we are one with, not separate from. Our words represent our thoughts and our soul. Words carry more long-lasting, impactful weight than a 140-character tweet might indicate. Ours words are our personal ambassador, just as Moses was God’s earthly ambassador.

“We understand the Hebrew Language to be very sacred,” writes Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer. “According to Jewish tradition, inherent in each letter are electric-like forces that God uses to create the Universe. ‘For when the world was created, it was the supernal letters that brought into being all the works of the lower world, after their own pattern….Jewish tradition maintains that God continually creates day and night.”

“The laws of language are identical to the laws of the universe,” Rabbi Goldhamer adds. The door to my office is made up of the Hebrew letters dalet-lamed-tav. When I touch my door, I am touching the Hebrew letters dalet-lamed-tav. This imagery resonates for me, especially as it compares to what we know from science. “Push your finger down on the table top and it feels solid. But no solids are ever contacted, not for an instant. Rather, the outmost atoms of your skin are surrounded by negatively charged electrons, and these are repelled by the similar electrons in the table. The sense of solidity is illusory; you feel only repulsive electrical fields. Fields. Energies. Nothing solid, ever,” Robert Lanza, MD, teaches in Beyond Biocentrism.

Words, made of letters, have the weight of energy and their energetic motion continues beyond the brain or two in their path. Words create. Moses knew this. He knew that he needed to relay God’s guidance to emphasize that a  Jewish path leads to the marvels of a Promised Land.

An Invisible Bee

Look how desire has changed in you,
how light and colorless it is,
with the world growing new marvels
because of your changing.

Your soul has become an invisible bee.
We don’t see it working,
but there’s the full honeycomb.
– Rumi

 

Human desire, as referred to in Pirkey Avot 1:4, is above all the desire for lifelong learning and growth asserts Rabbi Reuven. Your soul, sparked by the Divine, is an invisible bee. You experience and witness the material world and with a searching desire become aware that you are part of an Divine energy field. Energies are exchanged. When your thoughts and words are light and colorless, ie. kind, your soul becomes one with the energies of others. God creates the world’s marvels anew each day with the Hebrew letters and, Rabbi Goldhamer writes, the 22 Hebrew letters “are codes that allow us to connect the divine principle within us to the divine principle outside of us.” Moses shares this code with us in Deuteronomy. Reading Torah will change you.

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.

 

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.

Ministering to Body, Mind and Soul

This month I interviewed Hebrew Seminary faculty member Rabbi Cantor Rob Jury.

Since your May 2012 ordination from Hebrew Seminary, your career has taken two paths –   Rabbi of Anshe Tikvah in Wheeling and Staff Chaplain at Advocate’s Addiction Treatment Program.  Can you tell us how one led to the other and how your Hebrew Seminary education prepared you?

I see them as one single path with interwoven skill sets. I encounter people with addictions in synagogue life every day. Every synagogue has people facing addictions whether a family member or a close friend. The disease of addiction is everywhere.

Addictions work is all about healing, spiritual healing. The body, the mind and the soul are attacked by the disease of addiction. This is largely recognized by the medical community and the 12-step community recognizes it as a disease of the body, mind and soul.  It just so happens that I studied healing at Hebrew Seminary and I wrote my thesis on Kabbalistic healing prayer.

If we’re honest about it, we are all addicted to something, be it drugs, food, sex, or computer gambling. We all have that thing that we go to when we are running away from the world on its own terms and hiding from God.

Can you tell us more about “hiding from God?”

Adam and Eve knew what they were doing wasn’t right so they hid from God.  Many of us aren’t honest about what we are hiding from but the impact on our soul is the same.

You took pastoral theology at Hebrew Seminary and you continue to explore Kabbalistic healing modalities with Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer.  Can you share a bit about how healing prayer and spirituality guides and supports the people you serve?

I took pastoral theology at Hebrew Seminary from Rabbi Eisenbach and he introduced to us clinical pastoral education (CPE). He encouraged me to take a CPE unit which I did at Lutheran General.  That was my opportunity to apply in a medical setting all the things that Rabbi Goldhamer and Rabbi Eisenbach were teaching me. I later did a one-year, 2,000 hour residency at Lutheran General. At this point I had five units of CPEs which allowed me to work on my day off from the synagogue as a staff Chaplain at a medical site.  I then went through the process of becoming a Board Certified Chaplain with the National Association of Jewish Chaplains and the Association of Professional Chaplains.

One of my more important clinical learning moments was bedside in a hospital. The family had a loved one who was in critical condition. We weren’t going to know their medical status for 24 hours.  One of the physicians said, “This is the time for a miracle. If a miracle is going to happen, this is when it is going to happen. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If in 24 hours the miracle doesn’t happen, it is time for science. Then we’ll have a medical conversation.” When it is the time for a miracle I engage in Kabbalistic prayer with the family and the patient.  When G-d answers yes we celebrate. Sometimes the answer isn’t yes. That’s when we engage in pastoral care.

Rabbi Goldhamer and I are currently focusing our prayer studies on Psalms and the energies of Psalms; how to integrate Psalms into Kabbalistic prayers to give them an energetic boost.

What are your regular prayer and meditation practices? Can you teach our readers a meditation that might be a good introduction to integrating a prayerful pause into a busy life?

I do traditional Jewish prayer every day, three times a day.  In addition to that I do hitbodedut meditation as taught by Rabbi Nachman. You can do hitbodedut for an hour or a minute.  Here’s a short version:

Stop whatever you are doing. Take a deep breath and thank G-d for any two blessings in your life, ask G-d to help you with any two material things, ask G-d to help in any two spiritual ways, ask God to help humanity in any two ways, then say, “Thank You G-d.”

Can you recommend a good translation of Rabbi Nachman’s work on this topic?

Rav Ozer Bergman’s Where Heaven and Earth Kiss

You recently received a JUF grant.  Can you tell us about that?

Anshe Tikva received a $25,000 JUF Breakthrough Grant to research faith-based sober homes and how to open a Jewish sober home.

As part of this research I brought a group of people to Beit T’Shuvah in Los Angeles where members of the congregation were able to see what spiritual recovery looks like and how Jewish spiritual prayer can bring about healing of the soul. We want to have a sober home here to provide the same kind of Jewish environment in a sober home. This Jewish spiritual environment is what Rabbi Goldhamer’s teachings are about, it just looks different in a different setting. Rabbi’s teachings apply to all healing — This is For Everyone.

You are a Class of 2017 Northwestern University Masters of Counseling and Psychology graduate!  Tell us about your career vision.

My vision comes out of Rabbi Goldhamer’s vision to expand people’s access to Jewish healing, with the synagogue being the central access point of Jewish healing.

 

 

Rabbi Cantor Rob Jury lives in Evanston with his wife Rachel, sons Max and Elijah and daughter Anna. He is also a Worship Leader for the Council of Jewish Elderly and Community Rabbi on the Advisory Council of the Jewish Center on Addictions.

 

The Languages of God

By Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

When I was ordained as a rabbi in 1972, there was one person who had more influence on me than any other human being. It wasn’t my wife. I wasn’t married yet.  It wasn’t my mother. She was living in Canada.  It wasn’t God. It wasn’t any rabbi.  The person who had the most influence on my life was a Baptist preacher, and everyone in this room will recognize his name.  I was in my 3rd year of Rabbinical school.  I decided to cut my class on education—too early in the morning. I had a late night date. Anyway, I’m lying in bed in the dorm at Hebrew Union College, and I turn on the TV.  And there’s the man who changed my life. The man who indirectly made my ministry possible—the Reverend Pat Robertson. And I’ll never forget his words. He said, “There are over 40,000 Jewish deaf people. There are no rabbis serving them. We can save them for Christ.”  You may well ask, why were there no rabbis working with the Jewish deaf?

When I told my fellow students that this was my plan—they were outraged.  “Goldhamer, don’t you know what the laws of Torah and Talmud say about the deaf?” The law was quite clear during the time of Jesus that the deaf person, or the heresh, or the person who could not hear or speak—was exempt from all the rules and laws governing Judaism. And why was he exempt?

He was exempt because he did not have bar-deah. He did not have mental competency to assume bat mitzvah or leadership in any temple. He did not have the mental competency to be part of a quorum of 10.  He did not have the mental competency to read a service where there might be hearing people in the service.  The law was very clear, that a deaf person did not have the right to lead someone who hears to fulfill the mitzvah obligation.  Every member of my graduation class, with the exception of the first woman to graduate as a Reform Rabbi—Sally Priesand, was not happy with my choice to become a minister of the deaf.

Over thousands of years, people who are deaf and grew up even in an observant Jewish home got lost because there was no special attention or focus for them and on them.  It’s as if the deaf Jewish community has a present, but not a past.  As a result, many deaf Jews have a minimal identity as Jewish people, or even no identity as Jews.

So, how does a deaf person participate in public prayer? According to most Jewish Halachic rulings, deaf people can be part of a minyan if they can follow the prayers, and with mouth, say Amen.  However, don’t appoint a deaf person to lead prayers.

What about the Shema, the most important prayer of the Jewish faith—it affirms the Oneness of God. “Hear o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord Is One.”  Does a person have to hear the Shema to fulfill his obligation, or is understanding enough?  At Bene Shalom, we sign this important prayer this way. We sign “Hear O Israel…” We don’t sign Hear, which is this—but we sign understand—because what is most important is understanding.  On Purim the Jewish community gathers to read the Megillat Esther.  But, according to Halacha, you have to hear the Megillah read to fulfill the obligation. But the Deaf do have an obligation to read it themselves. But, they can’t read it for others.

Several years ago I received an email from a woman whose son was fluent in American Sign Language—but he couldn’t speak.  Her son was 14 years old. Because he doesn’t speak and only uses American Sign Language, the Rabbi refused to call him up to say a blessing at his cousin’s bar mitzvah.

In Skokie, at Congregation Bene Shalom, we understand that the deaf person has full parity with the hearing person.  It doesn’t matter if your method of communication is sign language or oral language, we are all one before God.  Every week, we interpret God’s word, using a language of God—American Sign Language, together with Hebrew and English.  And we have a loop system that enables those with hearing aids to better hear the prayers being communicated to God.  The synagogue was founded by myself and a group of 12 deaf families who were members of the Hebrew Association of the Deaf.  Originally the congregation was all deaf—a combination of oral Deaf and Signing Deaf.  But over the years, we have added many hearing members.  But we still make sure that the temple is accessible to everyone–deaf and hearing.  I and my assistant Rabbi are both fluent in American Sign Language.  Our Sunday school has a deaf teacher, who uses her voice when she teaches the hearing children.   It’s especially moving when a deaf girl or boy from our synagogue comes to the Torah and receives bar or bat mitzvah. It is inspiring to see a deaf girl interpret the words of Moses and Aaron in sign language; it is inspiring to see the Torah of Moses read by a deaf boy using his heart and soul and hands to communicate the word of God.  And our hearing children also learn to sign their Torah portion out of respect for their deaf friends.

You know, one of the most moving experiences in my ministry was my study with a deaf man named Steve.  We studied together when he was an adult, so he could achieve bar mitzvah—when he was 13, his parents’ Rabbi said it was impossible for him to have bar mitzvah because he used Sign language. He was also oral, and loved to speak the Hebrew prayers—but his childhood rabbi said he could not have bar mitzvah. So, when Steve was 30 something, we studied together and he not only learned the Hebrew of the Torah and the blessings, but he learned Israeli Sign Language, so he could sign the Hebrew –not just in English transliteration.  He drew the Hebrew characters in the air, and spoke them, “Baruchu et Adonai…”  Every word brought him and us closer to God.  And years later, Steve became one of the first students at the Seminary that I founded, Hebrew Seminary of the Deaf.

Each one of these wondrous happenings of deaf people reading Torah, learning Hebrew, becoming president of our synagogue, achieving bar mitzvah, defies what the ancient rabbis said about the deaf. During Talmudic times, when our religions was being established, the ancient rabbis misunderstood deaf people and deaf culture. During rabbinic times, a little deaf girl was brought before Jesus and the mother of the little deaf girl asked Jesus to heal her daughter. “My poor daughter is deaf.  She will never speak.  She will never hear.  She will never communicate with the world. My poor daughter is deaf.” And so Jesus puts his hands on the little girl’s ears, and the book of Matthew tells us that an ugly and awful sound escaped from the little girl’s ears.  It was the sound of an evil spirit. The girl was healed. The wild demon left the girl. She was no longer deaf. She could hear; she could speak.  “Praise the Lord.”  This was the thinking at that time about deaf people.

During rabbinic times, the rabbis questioned, “Who is a deaf person?”

And they ruled that a deaf person is “Anyone who can’t hear, can’t speak and is mentally incompetent.”  Indeed, the Rabbis at that time said that because deaf people were “lav bene daya neenwho,” they were exempt from all the commandments of the Torah. The deaf are not required to read Torah, put on tefilin, observe the holidays and even pray. Furthermore, a deaf person was not permitted to lead a hearing person in prayer.

Because of his physical impairment, the deaf person was considered mentally incompetent and unable to actively participate in the religious activities of the community.  This Jewish thinking prevailed for 20 centuries.

And then we established Congregation Bene Shalom—we are celebrating our 45th anniversary in May. We founded the only full time deaf synagogue in the world, where deaf boys and girls achieve b’nai mitzvah, where deaf men and women achieve leadership roles in the Jewish community.   Where deaf Catholic and Jewish Senior Citizens come together every month to share lunch and talk together for hours.  Where deaf and hearing people come together as equals in prayer and camaraderie. Where adult education classes are interpreted for the deaf and hearing.  Where the Rabbi preaches using his voice and his hands. Where the signing choir interprets the Hebrew chants of our Cantorial soloist. Where the hard of hearing are totally comfortable because of our loop auditory system.  And all this happens because deaf people are “bene deya.”   In the words of the former president of Gallaudet University, King Jordan–Deaf people can do anything but hear!

And so, 20 years ago, Alan Crane, Joan and Stan Golder and I established the first seminary in the world that trains not only hearing people, but deaf men and women to become rabbis.  There are deaf Jewish communities all over American and Europe—and I have seen that we need deaf and hearing rabbis to serve deaf and hearing communities. Hebrew Seminary recognizes that deafness is a unique culture and part of the Jewish multi-cultural experience.   Right now, we have 10 students studying to become rabbis—and two of them are deaf!  One wants to work with deaf children, and the other wants to start a congregation for deaf and hearing Jews in her community of Englewood.

The ancient rabbis identified speech with thought. The ancient rabbis maintained that the rational soul – that part of us that thinks – is called nefesh mi da beret – the soul that speaks.  Even Greek philosophy used the same word for thinking and speaking, logos.  Even Moses identified thought with speech.  When God chose Moses to liberate the Jewish peole, Moses was dumbfounded and said, “I am a man of heavy speech.” But God recognized there is no correlation between speech and thought. God gives Moses a speech interpreter—his brother Aaron.  Moses confronts the pharaoh and liberates the people from Egypt.

Many Jewish deaf people are unable to do the mitzvah of saying the required blessings—every Jewish person is mandated to say 100 blessing every day. And even though there are two ways to articulate a blessing, with each way being legally legitimate, the deaf person cannot embrace either of these 2 ways.  They could either say the words themselves, orally, in order to do it themselves—which most ancient deaf could not do – or, they could hear the reading of others—aurally —so as to do the mitzvah through listening. However, the ancient Jewish law provides an alternative way of doing the mitzvah. Those unable to say their prayers and blessings with their mouths, should think them in their heads instead. Their thought is accepted in place of the spoken word. This was the way that our ancient rabbis included the deaf into equality. This is the way we include the deaf through two contemporary methods—1. A sign language interpreter who is fluent in her work, or 2 an equally valid method of interpreting—the loop system which amplifies sound to someone wearing a hearing aid.

Our seminary follows the thinking of God, and we know that hearing and debur or speech is not necessary for a rabbi.  The language of signs is exquisite and inspiring. It brings us close to God. It touches our souls and hearts.

I dream that every deaf Jewish boy and girl in America will have bar mitzvah, and will interpret his Torah portion in sign, Hebrew and English, and they will be taught by deaf and hearing rabbis dedicated to teaching our faith.  I have a vision that Jewish deaf leaders will sign Torah in their synagogues, sit on the boards of major Jewish organizations and become spiritual leaders of deaf and hearing congregations, which are fully equipped with loop auditory systems.  I have a vison where rabbis who assume pulpits will make their congregations deaf friendly by introducing sign language in the religious services, using captioning devices, and loop systems, teaching Torah and Hebrew to deaf children in their religious school using sign language and sign language interpreters.  I have a vision where every synagogue in America will be accessible to deaf people because sign language and deaf culture will be part of the curriculum. I have a vision of hearing and deaf rabbis establishing deaf congregations across the country so that deaf people will have a choice of going either to a deaf congregation or a hearing congregation that is deaf friendly. I have a vision of a seminary in America where rabbis and Ph.D. scholar are in daily contact with deaf Jewish men and women and that God’s prophecy is realized, because, through our Seminary, the deaf shall understand even though they do not hear.  It is true that deaf can do anything but hear.