Tu b

Today is the festival of Tu b’Av, the 15th of Av. Tu b’Av is nowadays also seen as the Jewish Valentine day.

 

But the Talmud considers this day to be more holy than Yom Kipur. Why? On this day the girls were dancing in the wineguards before the boys, and so shiduchim were made. ‘Young man, look up and see whom you choose for yourself, says Taanit, and no doubt the girls had their ways to draw the attention of their choice. Less than a week ago, on Tisha b’Av, we remembered the destruction and mourned, and now we celebrate the creation of new families, the continuity of Jewish life.

 

The Hasidic masters considered this day a mistery: a forebode of the future redemption, of which we cannot see the essence as long as we are not redeemed ourselves.

 

May this day open our heart and bring us love in al dimensions.

Tisha b

Do we cry enough? 

About the Chatam Sofer is said that before Tisha b’Av he locked himself in a room, learned Echa, and cried so much that he filled a glass with his tears. During the seuda hamafseket, the last meal before the fast, he drank his tears, as in Tehillim 80:6: ‘You give them tears to drink in great measure’.

Some people don’t want to mourn the loss of the temple. Which modern Jew still wants to be associated with animal sacrifices? Was the churban, the destruction of the temple, not a blessing, so we could install more contemporary traditions? Shouldn’t we abolish Tisha b’Av alltogether?

It is good always to make the best of something. And it is even better to take time to mourn. Loss is quite something, and in the course of our lives we do experience loss regularly. Even if we deal with it really well, not mourning often takes its toll later. Therefore Tisha b’Av is a necessary part of the Jewish year.

We need oxigen to live. But we can only breath in if we also breath out. The list of calamities to remember of our people is long. Also in our personal lives we experience losses: loss of health, of loved ones, of work, of a home, the end of a stage of life, and ultimately the loss of our life. Some losses just hit us. Other losses we choose: we leave a partner, a house, a job. But even then the process of taking leave is somtimes painful.

Mourning is a necessity. About everything we lost we mourn on Tisha b’Av. We also mourn if something good came in its place.

Tisha b’Av is also the beginning of the year cycle of teshuva. In parashat Devarim, which we always  read in the week of Tisha b’Av, the root peh – nun – heh, turning, changing directions, is found seven times. Seven weeks before Rosh haShanah we turn towards teshuvah. We count the Omer back, from malchut shebemalchut to chesed shebechesed, 49 days, to prepare ourselves for Rosh haShanah. We turn away from our alienation from ourselves, from others and from haShem, from keeping up appearances, and we turn towards acknowledgement of our grief. Grief about what we did not succeed in despite our good intentions. Grief about intentions that maybe weren’t totally good. Grief over the denial of who we are. Grief over forgetting the mission of our soul in this lifetime. We turn away from our defenses. We turn towards a renewal of being connected. Being connected in the first place with our own soul. Being connected with the consciousness of what we are supposed to do here. Being connected with taking responsibility, for our own deeds and for the world. Tisha b’Av is our first step on our way to Yom Kippur, when we can experience total at-one-ment.

Pesach, what do we celebrate?

How is the seder meal different from all other meals? Of course through the matze and the maror, the gremshelish and the Pesach chocolate cake. But certainly also by the magid, the story teller, who precedes the meal. The  book we use is called hagadah, telling, and not se’uda, meal, or mesiba, party. The Torah orders us to tell the story of the exodus from Mitzraim to our children. Targum Onkelos translates the Hebrew higadeta, you will tell, into the  arameic utechawi, you will instruct. The essence is not to tell a story, but to teach the meaning.

What is that meaning we should teach our children? The Slonimer rebbe says: ‘In the time that the children of Israel were oppressed by the Pharao, they were not able to speak. They could only sigh, without speaking. And they sighed and screamed and their groaning went up and the Holy One heard their crying. And al this happened while they were oppressed, and their speech was in exile. […] When the children of Israel left Mitzraim, they went out from oppression to redemption and eternal freedom, and then they received again the ability of speech’. The kabbalist Chayyim Vital reads the word Pesach as peh sach, the mouth that speaks. The matze we eat is called lechem oni. The Talmud gives us two meanings:  the bread of affliction and the bread that is discussed (from la’anot, bear witness, answer). The kabbalistic foundational work the Zohar reads that Bemidbar (literally ‘in the desert’) , the Hebrew name of the fourth book of the Torah, as ‘by way of the word’. Moshe was heavy of tongue, and claimed not to be able to speak. But once in the desert, the midbar, what also can be read as medaber, speaking, we never hear anything about this ever again. Wajedaber Moshe, Moshe spoke, and from Shemot through Devarim he never ceased speaking.

The kind of speech we are talking about is not: ‘Nice weather today’. ‘Yeah, better than yesterday. Could you pass the apple sauce please?’ Not that there is someting wrong with it. But what is meant here, is speaking freely about what really moves us, without fear for repercussions. What is meant is the free expression of the depth of our soul, the expressing our authentic self without reservations.

That does not mean saying anything that comes to our head without restriction, coldheartedly offending sections of the population, and silencing people with declamations and rhetorics. Nor is it a licence to speak lashon hara, defamation, to stretch or bend the truth if that suits us better, or to compulsively draw all attention to  ourselves. All this belongs to the slavery of serving our own ego.

We are ordered to celebrate Pesach, zeman cherutenu, the time of our liberation, as if we ourselves were slaves in Mitzraim. Mitzraim is Egypt. But ito is also a narrow place, a limited consciousness, in which we pursue our ego needs more than objectively necessary. Of course we need to eat, we want a roof over our heads, we want to be safe and to belong, and preferably to be esteemed and respected. Nothing wrong with that. But if we become a slave of this, and spend all our time and energy to get this, and want more, more, more of it,  then there is no room any more for our soul, our authentic self, to express itself in the world. Then we get alienated from our self and our environment.

Pesach, that is liberation from the slavery of our limited consciousness, of too much ego, and being able to without fear express freely our divine spark, our authentic self. May it be so, soon, in our days!

HaMakor_ster

PURIM, the real reality behind the illusionary

We are going to celebrate Purim again. But what do we celebrate?

The word megillah, scroll, contains the letters gimel lamed he of the Hebrew word ‘reveal’. In Esther we find the letters samech tav resh of the Hebrew word ‘hide’. So the megillat Esther deals with revealing what is hidden. The word Esther itself  is formed with an aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and seter. Aleph is one of the descriptors of G’d, and seter means a hidden place. So Esther means ‘G’d who is in a hiding place’. And according to Rashi in the days of Esther there is a hester panim, a hiding of the divine face. But hiding is not disappearing. Esther is very visible but hides her identity, nobody knows she is Jewish. We think we see reality but we don’t see what is real. Our challenge is to see the reality behind reality. That is what the book  Esther is about. We celebrate seeing the real reality behind the visible one. Therefore our rabbi’s say that in the days of  Mashiach of all festivals only Purim will still be celebrated.

In the story several people happen to be at the right place at the right moment. By accident Mordechai hears two courtiers talking about murdering the king. By accident the king wants the chronicles read to him just that night.  By accident his servant chooses exactly this piece. Or choose? The tekst says: wajimatze katoev, what was written is found. Accident, synchronicity, or the hand of haShem? Or is that all the same? Leit atar panui mine, there is no place devoid of Him, says the Zohar. The book Esher teaches us to see the holy, the wonder, in the ordinary, and even in evil.

We can also see our own life as a chain of accidental events. Or as a series of events that brought us where we had to be, or will do so in the future. If we look at our life, we can do so through the mysery filter: what misery, what mishaps befell us, what bad intentions  other people have towards us. Or we can look at it through the blessings glasses: how good was our portion, and in the few bad things a blessing was hidden, or so we saw later. Isn’t it a wonder how all our experiences led us to where we are now? How blessed we are! What a wonderful things we see every day! Ours is the choice between the mysery filter and the blessings glasses.

We are ordered to drink so much at Purim that we don’t know, ad d’lo jada, the difference between ‘Baruch (blessed) Mordechai’ en ‘Arur (cursed) Haman’. Say the rabbi’s. But the Talmud does not mention wine. It says livsumay, with the same letters bet samech mem as herbs, besamim,and it is translated as intoxicate, sweeten, make happy. We have to be so happy we don’t see the difference.  Baruch Mordechai and Arur Haman have the same numerical value, 502. Our sages say that means they share the same meaning. But how can the summum of evil be equal to the summum of piety? The Ba’al Shem Tov states that in every evil there is something good, and we have to look at it from the inside to see it. Ad d’lo jada means letting go of judgment and control. It means to go to a place of transcending opposites. It means to go to a place where no opinion is formed yet, so all opinions are still possible. It means looking at every situation anew, without prejudgments formed by experiences in the past. It means transcending duality and going to a place of non-duality.

The Talmud tekst suggests that we need intoxicating herbs (mariuhana? absinth? ayahuasca? magic mushrooms? what did these old rabbi’s use?) to transcend duality. One trip once a year, at Purim. Let’s enjoy tonight. And let’s work on ourselves the rest of the year to arrive at that place with consciousness.

Tu B’shvat 2016: man is as a tree of the field

Tree-of-life-spring

 

 

Tu B’shvat is the New year of the trees. In this time of the year in Israel  the sap flow of the tree, sraf, comes up again. The chiut, the life force, that seemed to have disappeared in winter, becomes visible again.

 

The Tchortkover rebbe taught that when someone has lost everything, and has lost all hope, he has to meditate about a tree in winter. His leaves have fallen, his sap does not flow, he looks very dead. But suddenly he is revived and starts to bring up fluid from the ground. He starts blooming and produces fruits. Therefore one should not despair. Man is like a tree.

 

A life with only ups and no downs seems ideal. But is that true? Especially our down periods stimulate us to become creative, to change our route, to learn about ourselves. What would our life look like if there never was a challenge? Many people start to create their own challenges if life does not offer them. Would we ever reach the same heights if there were no challenges?

 

In the parasha of this week, Yitro, our people receive the 10 utterances, an absolute top experience in our history. But only after 210 years of exile. Only when the suppression was worse than ever they developped the courage to walk their own path, as pointed out by the Holy One. According to the Sefer Yetzirah, the mazal , the astrological sign, of Shewat is a bucket. A bucket is lowered into the well empty, and brought up again with water in it. Yerida tzorekh aliya, is what the  Chassidic masters say, to rise one has to descend first.

 

For the kabbalists of Sefad in the 16th century, the tree had a great symbolic value. The great work of

Chayyim Vital, in which he records the teachings of rabbi Yitzchak Luria, is known as Etz Chayyim, the tree of life. According to a part of it, Peri etz hadar, the sin of Adam, eating of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, is compensated by the eating of fruits at Tu b’Shwat. The festival of Tu b’Shwat could cause a great tikkun olam, a healing of the world, by healing the distorted balance. And let us not forget the balance in ourselves.

 

I wish you all a joyful Tu b’Shwat. May we in the new year of the trees contribute our fruit to the healing of the world, and may we continue to grow ourselves. Wechol atze hasadeh jimcha’u kaf, then all the trees of the field will clap their hands in joy!  (Yesh.55:12)!

 

HaMakor_ster

Hanuka

Before creation only the light of Ein Sof, the Infinite One, existed. With the creation of heaven and earth, darkness was created. ‘… and darkness was upon the surface of the deep …’, says Bereshit 1:2. The infinite Light was hidden in darkness. But is there a real separation, a real distinction between light and darkness?

On Tisha b’Av we read Echa, Lamentations,  in the dark. We mourned the destruction of the temple. Tisha b’Av  happens in summer , the lightest time of the year. There is an old custom in Italy to keep the candle by which we read Echa in the dark till Hanuka, to light the first Hanuka candle. At Hanuka we celebrate the rededication of the temple. It happens around the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year. Light and darkness are interwoven in creation as yin and yang. The whole Jewish year is intended to see the Light in darkness.

According to the Zohar, right after creation the world was still illuminated by the infinite Light, and Adam could see from one end of the earth to the other. Only after people sinned, the Light was hidden and changed into Or Ganuz, the hidden light. But though it is hidden, it still exists, like the sun still exists when the earth has turned and we are at the night side. Often we don’t see the Light. But in our better moments our soul, the divine spark in us, can see something of it, and is our darknes not that dark any more. Like haShem showing this light to David who burst forth into praise:  ‘How abundant is thy goodness …!’.

We only can see the candles of Hanuka against a background of darkness. The candle in the desert at noon, of which the Sufi mystic Rumi speaks, does not give that much joy. We can only see the Milky Way at night, when we are far from the city, preferably in a not illuminated desert. Moshe had to enter the dark cloud to speak with haShem. Mystics speak of the dark night of the soul, the spiritual crisis we experience on our way to union with haShem. In darkness the seed begins to grow in the earth.

The Chesed l’Avraham pointed out that the letters of the Hebrew word eight (the number of days the oil continued to burn), שמנה shemone, can spell the word oil, השמן hashemen. The same letters can form the word  נשמה, neshama, soul. The flames of Hanuka, which we light in the darkest time of the year, are the beginning of a new spiritual year cycle of tikkun hanefesh, the healing of the soul. May our darkness be as illuminating as our light. May  the night shine like the day, and the darkness be clear as the light (Tehillim 139:12).

E

shofar YSY001(1)

Elul

I bought a shofar, at last, and am now learning to blow it. In the month of Elul we have to hear the shofar every day, and I thought it was time to be able to do it myself. Before the first of Elul. I came home from Jerusalem half of juli with a beautiful shofar, and layed him carefully in the book case. Every day I lookd at it. Till so far  I never succeeded in getting any sound from a shofar. Had I been too overconfident? Like the time of my great vision to jump off a mountain with a parachute, after which I slept so badly that I cancelled the reservation next morning, concluding that I didn’t have to be able to do everything?

After gathering enough courage I started. The first days no sound at all came out of the shofar. The chance seemed considerable that I would never learn it. Nevertheless I went on youtube and studied how to do it. By now, sound is coming out of the shofar. Not bad, in fact a remarkable achievement for me, I think. But what kind of a sound! Not the proud clarion call  that announces the coming of the Mashiach. Not the loud sound of the ram’s horn in the middle of thunder and lightning before we recieved the Torah op Sinai. Neither the battle horn of Jeremiah, the threatening sounds of Amos, or the cheerful trumpet in Tehillim. Nothing of this. My shofar sounds whiney, weepy, plaintive, broken, miserable, pathetic. And I can only produce one tone, more or less.  It is not the shofar. The person in the shop in Jerusalem produced a beautiful strong, clear sound with it. It is me.

My struggling with the shofar is a metaphor for the work we have to do in the month of Elul. According to the Talmud, the sound of the shofar should be like the sighing of the mother who lost her son in battle, like her piercing cries because he does not return. In this month the sound of the shofar is not the sound of triumph and joy, but the sound of pain, of sorrow, of loss, of powerlessness.

In the month of Elul, we work even more than in other months on teshuva. We made mistakes. That was painful. Therefore the shofar cries. We did not do everything well. That hurts our ego. That’s why the shofar sounds so miserable this month. We started this year after Yom Kippur in a new car. During the year more and more scratches appeared on the surface. Every new scratch was a scratch on our soul. By now the bumper has dents, there is a star in the windscreen, and after our last collision, one of the doors does not close very well. Of course we can maintain that all this is the fault of the other. Perhaps that is even not completely untrue. But that does not heal us. To heal we have to do something ourselves. All the month of Elul we study our behaviour of last year. We try to see exactly where we went wrong. So that we can improve, repare what can be repared, and start the new year with a clean slate, without feeling guilty about the past. We did it as well as we could. Or perhaps intentionally not. But after we have really done teshuva, we start the new year with a clean slate.

Teshuva means returning. Returning to who we are in the depths of our soul. Returning to the Source of all life. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, may his memory be a blessing, wrote the following song:

Return again, return again

Return to the land of your soul (2x)

Return to who you are

Return to what you are

Return to where you are

born and reborn again

Return again, return again

Return to the land of your soul

May it be so! On Rosh haShone I hope to be able to blow the shofar with a  powerful clear sound.  If we have all done our work by then, Mashiach will come, says our tradition.

Humanly spoken I am afraid it will not happen this year either. But let’s continue to make an effort to heal the world and to heal ourselves, be-ezrat haShem, with help of the Always-becoming.

HaMakor_ster

Si

The month of Siwan is associated with the tribe of Zevulun. Zevulun,  a seafaring tribe, is associated with the chilazon, a little sea slug of which techelet was made, the blue of the blue thread in the tzitzit. The tzitzit reminds us of the mitzwot, the commandments. What is so exceptional about techelet? It was chosen above all other colours because it looked like the colour of the ocean, which resembled the colour of the sky, which was like the colour of the Throne of Glory that stood on a paving of sapphire. Chazal, that is chachamim zichronam livracha, our sages, may their memory be for a blessing, concluded from this that spiritual growth does not happen in one big step, but step by step, like the rungs of a ladder. On Sinai, our sages say, haShem bended the lower and the higher heavens and spread them over the mountain of Sinai during Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah. A kind of wormhole. But afterwards the heavens returned to their original positions, and we have to climb the ladder again to reach a higher level. Every day, step by baby step, we work on our spiritual elevation mechail el chail (Teh 84:7), from strength to strength.