How the Kabbalah Understands Suffering 1

The General Nature of Suffering

In order to deal effectively with the reality of suffering, it is very important to get a clear perspective on what suffering actually is from a spiritual vantage point.

The true root of suffering is, in essence, a disruption of the soul’s ability to express itself fully and to live out its purpose in being present in life.

The main purpose of existence from the Kabbalah’s perspective is the evolution of the soul, which occurs through using our innate ability to manifest continually the infinite creativity each of us possesses as unique expressions of the Divine. This process can, however, be impeded, thereby creating suffering.

The soul is in a state of discomfort, anguish or pain, if its capacity to manifest fully in the world is disturbed, hindered or blocked. Moreover, the greater the disruption, the greater the distress one experiences and hence the more difficult the process is of living a fulfilling and joyful life.

The contention in Kabbalist thought is that the soul knows exactly what its life purpose is and is always intent on manifesting it through all aspects of life. The Kabbalah teaches that when we experience joy, satisfaction and contentment in whatever we are doing, we are in alignment with the soul, with the divine within ourselves.

However, because we as human beings are endowed with free will we can make positive choices or negative ones. This, in and of itself, is not a problem. Rather it is a gift. We learn and grow through the process of experiencing what works and what does not. We evolve as we come to understand and internalize what is truly beneficial and what is decidedly destructive. This learning is absolutely essential to soul growth.

So what engenders suffering?

The emergence of suffering arrives when we become fixated on the negative and begin giving it exaggerated significance. By overemphasizing our experiences and focusing on our subjective reactions, the effect is uniformly negative. We automatically impart a concentration of energy to our relationship with our life events that is disruptive, distorting and ultimately painful.

What is important to understand here is that a large part of our suffering in life is self-induced. Under such circumstances, we need to take responsibility and consciously take steps to either prevent or reverse such torment through conscious choice and mindful action.

When we are faced with suffering, the disruptions producing it take place on the lower three levels of our experience, the intellectual, emotional and physical planes, not on the spiritual per se. As incarnated beings, we are present in the world, though not “of the world”. The soul operates on the material plane via these three extensions of itself, through the three dimensions of our consciousness. That is, the soul experiences life and expresses itself through mind, emotion and physicality, which are extended modalities of spirit into the world.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel

What causes suffering at it root is distortion of the natural flow of our spiritual energy and the disruption of its ability therefore to manifest fully and effectively in our lives. So, if we become aware of how some of suffering’s primary causes commonly manifest, we are then in a position to rectify the problem and move forward with our lives purposefully and joyfully.

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Suffering Is Optional

Difficulty, challenge and struggle are very much part of the fabric of our life experience.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel -KabbalistExistence itself is composed of an ebb and flow. There is a constant push and pull in life, caused by the fact that the world is based on polarity. There is a dualism that clearly underlies creation. There are continual ups and downs, twists and turns in the process of living life, because the tension produced by dualism is what constitutes the very energy that keeps things moving.

There is expansion and there is contraction. There is growth and there is decay. There is strength and there is weakness. Everything in life is a duality. That is how creation is structured. Light and dark both follow each other and contend with one another as well. So does effort and rest, happiness and sadness, success and disappointment; everything that exists in the world.

Therefore, whenever there is movement there is also resistance. Friction and obstruction are simply part of the process of development. They are not aberrations. They are not errors. They are not the enemy. Struggling with difficulty and subsequently having to endure hard times is vital to the process of living life. It is the prerequisite to growth. Suffering, however, is absolutely not.

Suffering is a negative response to difficult circumstances. It is not the substance of what we are going through. It is the modality by which we handling it. When we are suffering from something physically, if we emotionally identify with the illness or injury we create suffering. The pain and the malfunction or disability we are experiencing are the symptoms and the effects of a difficulty the body is experiencing. Often, the pain and discomfort are actually part of the healing process.

In a similar manner, psychologically, if external circumstances in one’s life become very difficult and constrictive, one is out of work, a relationship is strained, one has experienced a serious loss, etc. pain and anguish will emerge as a natural part of the accompanying emotional process. That is normal.

However, if we react to the pain, be it physical or psycho-emotional by identifying with it, by becoming upset, frustrated or resentful, we are creating suffering for ourselves. Our approach is manufacturing an element that does not have to exist in the experience. Suffering is not a natural part of the process of coming to terms with difficult situations. It is a choice being made in the way the reality being faced is approached and handled.

Suffering is pain inducing, but not the pain itself. Nor is it the malady per se. Rather, suffering is a reactive mode that is negatively identifying with the problem. Difficult circumstances and the pain they generate are part of the contractive side of nature and central to human experience. Suffering, however, is an add-on and often an unconscious default position.

It’s one thing to say you are sick. It is quite another to say that you are dealing with working through an illness. There is a big difference between these views. In the first instance, you are not making a distinction between you and your circumstances. The distinction between you and what you are going through has been blurred or obscured.

By identifying with the difficult circumstances you are facing, you are bringing about emotional distress. That is suffering and it is unnecessary.

There is another route to take. You can remain calm, centered and simply keep in mind that what is happening to you is merely something you are going through. It will not last forever. It is your circumstances and your condition at the moment. It is absolutely not you per se. You will exist long after all your current situation is gone.

In taking a non-reactive approach, suffering does not show up. How is this so?

In Kabbalah, the right and left pillars of the Tree of Life are the forces of expansion and contraction. The right pillar is drive, excitement and experience. The left pillar is that of taking in, processing and assimilating. There is a push-pull reality that is a primal element in their relationship. The energy of creativity and development is generated by their interaction. Through this pulsation of energy, everything is given life, meaning and definition. In other words, the entire learning process is based on the tension between our experience of expansiveness and restriction.

The way the Kabbalah sees it, difficulty and challenge are the natural result of the friction, the push-pull of how life is set up. It is critical for our growth and development. Suffering, however, is an imbalance that upsets the system and weighs us down. It is a burden to the experience of life, not an essential element.

Negative emotions, such as anger, fear, grief, regret etc. in their natural state serve enormously important psychological functions. However, if we indulge in holding and dwelling on them, they devolve into dark emotions which are forms of suffering.  This type of suffering would include forms such as desperation and despair, rage and recrimination, confusion and doubt, guilt and humiliation, fear and paralysis, just to name a few.

The Kabbalah sees suffering as excessive emotional fixation. That is, suffering is understood as one being too focused on a set of difficulties. When that happens, one’s perspective is lost in a vortex of intensifying emotion. The difficulty being faced becomes the center of one’s emotional life. The effect of which causes one’s experience to become constricted, heavy and subsequently painful. The sense of feeling trapped, helpless and overwhelmed is the result.

From the Kabbalist perspective there is a way to transmute this reality. What the Kabbalah teaches is that any energy has different ways it can manifest. All energy is subject to the laws of polarity, differentiation and balance. Generally, energy can be  formed initially into any of a number of diverse expressions and any specific energy that is already defined can be reshaped and redirected.

In other words, any emotional reality one is working with can be refocused and then re-manifest itself in an alternate form.  For example, fear can be transformed into determination. Anger can be reconstituted into courage and fortitude. Grief can be reformatted into acceptance. There are a lot of possible permutations.

Energy per se is neutral. It is our intention that gives energy a shape and a specific, discreet reality. How we approach something is what it will be or what it will become. We must be very aware of how we are holding any given situation emotionally. Do we want to hold on to hurt and remain angry or are we willing to forgive, to release and become compassionate? If one holds anger, there is suffering. If one transforms the hurt to understanding, compassion emerges. Then, there is no suffering. Suffering does not exist within the realm of compassion.

It is very important to remember that energy is malleable. It can manifest in multiple ways. The process of living our lives, by its very nature, constantly presents us with challenges of different magnitudes.

There are two alternatives to life’s difficulties. If we regard life’s issues as burdens, obstructions and impositions, we will endure suffering. If on the other hand, we can handle challenges no matter how difficult as tasks, responsibilities and opportunities, then life opens up to us as an amazing vista for experience, growth and learning. The choice is ours. The energy is the same. It is the suffering that is optional.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel                                 www.classicalkabbalist.org

Shefa: How the Kabbalah Understands Abundance

Many people tend to understand the concept of abundance in rather narrow, material terms. Abundance is thought of generally as material wealth. The Kabbalist term, Shefa, applies a much broader perspective and a far wider definition to the concept; one that has very significant implications regarding how to experience life fully.

In Kabbalist thinking, the whole point to creation on one level is to be the recipient of God’s goodness. In Genesis, God is continually seeing the process of creation and Creation itself as being the embodiment of good. The entire universe is predicated on the foundation of good and the divine intention is therefore to continue to provide goodness to all realms in order to support that underlying base.

The concept of Shefa is a particularly important one in Kabbalist teaching; one that is central in understanding how the universe in general and humanity in particular are sustained. The principle implies the concept that like flows to like. God creates the world as the supreme manifestation of good and then sustains it constantly with the flow of goodness.

Though the word, Shefa, literally means abundance, in Kabbalist terms it implies considerably more than that. Shefa is actually, on the broadest level, the flow of goodness that comes to our world from the higher planes of existence. This means that first and foremost, the Shefa is a specific form of light that is sent down on one hand and drawn down on the other. It is the light of intended good and specific benefit.

This light is meant to add new vitality to the world and to enrich the experience of all who dwell on earth. In human terms, Shefa comes as blessing and has many forms. It can provide enlightenment, transformation and wisdom on the spiritual plane, evolution, growth and empowerment on the psycho-emotional level and resources,wealth and opportunity in the material world.

The Shefa is a dimension of the light of the Sefirah, Hesed. It is light that emanates from Hesed with a specific function. The light of Hesed per se is the force that gives life and sustains the world and all that is in it. That light is the energy of the Sefirah, Hesed. The Shefa is the derivative light of Hesed. The Shefa is that is blessing.

There is an intimate relationship between Hesed itself and the Shefa, but they are not the same thing. The Shefa is an energy that emerges from the light of Hesed. Its function is to bring blessing, benefit and enrichment to all the higher realms in general and the world in specific. The energy flow of Hesed is that of life force, the energy that enlivens both the higher levels of existence as well as our own. Without it the universe could not exist. Hesed’s energy is the lifeblood of creation as a whole and its flow is divinely ordained constant.

The Shefa, the flow of goodness, blessing, benefit and abundance is an additional element to the equation. Whereas the light of Hesed is a consistent factor in the maintenance of reality The Shefa is far more variable. It is effected by factors other than just the Divine Will.

The Shefa, on one hand, is send down from Hesed by divine direction, but on the other hand is drawn down to our level by need, by circumstance and in response to human action. Life force, Hesed, is sent from above as the sustaining power within creation. The Shefa, blessing and abundance, are a flow that is regulated. It is the level of benefit and enrichment specifically being activated and brought down from below.

The idea is that if there is a true need for blessing, healing and the manifestation of goodness on our level, in our lives, we have to seek it actively. We need to request it, make sure we are living our lives in a manner that renders us deserving of blessing and we must be completely open to receiving it when it arrives. As a result of our stimulus, the energy we are generating ascends and reverberates in the Sefirah of Hesed. Hesed, then responds by increasing the flow of the Shefa, which descends to our level proportionally.

We can be blessed and enriched in many ways that take on a multitude of forms, some recognizable and some extremely subtle. Abundance can come in many forms; physical  or emotional health, prosperity and wealth, enlightenment and wisdom, love and support, community and friendship, insight and expanded awareness, spiritual development and inner peace.

One way or the other, when the Shefa reaches us we are nourished, supported and nurtured. With the Shefa, the light in our lives expands and our whole reality and experience of life are positively enhanced. The Shefa is the arrival of the good in response to goodness. Through centering our lives on doing good, we send our light up through the higher realms of existence and stimulate Hesed, the source of goodness. What comes down to us  as Shefa as a result needs to always be understood as the purpose of creation as it is manifesting in our life.

Our response to this influx of blessings, richness and benefit needs to be  one of genuine recognition of the divine intent, the appropriate use of what has been bestowed on us and gratitude.

Rabbi Fisdel

An Insight into Being in the Moment

In the Mishnah, the teaching is that one should live every day of their life as if it was one’s last. In some ways, this is the Jewish version of the Eastern concept of  “living life in the now” or “being present in the moment”. If every day one’s focus is on preparing for a departure from this lifetime, the past is then only the record of our experience and the future is a moot point.

By centering our attention on conclusion, we are simultaneously preparing for a totally new beginning. If in practice we conclude our life on a daily basis, then when we awaken the next day we begin a whole new reality. This process keeps us perpetually focused in the moment.

The other day, I had an interesting and unexpected conversation about this very topic while sitting at the counter of a cafe. The exchange led me to a very profound realization and I want to share it with you.

While I was at the counter waiting for my order, I found myself engaged in conversation with a gentleman sitting next to me. During the conversation, I casually asked about how his week was going. His rather surprising response was “I can only vouch for today. However, today’s going wonderfully.” “What about yesterday?” I asked. To which he responded, “To be honest with you, I can’t really say much for sure about yesterday because I have no direct sense of time”.

I was intrigued. He went on to explain. What he told me was that when he was in his very early twenties, he was nearly killed in a car accident.  A couple of days after the event, while he reflected on what had happened, he suddenly made the decision consciously that if he was going to die he wanted to die happy. Moreover, since he had no idea when he was going to die and realizing it could happen at any moment, he decided that his focus had to be on being happy every day. He explained that he has consistently honored that commitment ever since.

He made it a point to tell me that his decision permanently shifted his entire perspective on how to live life. If he was going to be happy, it had to be a constant, because every day could actually be his last.  “As a result”, he said, “the past simply became a record of his experience and material to reflect on. The future ceased to exist as anything more than a simple possibility”. What he then emphasized to me was that he could remember clearly events in his past, but could not determine whether the event happened yesterday or years ago. And that it really didn’t matter.

What truly mattered to him was that he found himself vividly aware of the great joy of just being. Every day of his life became a prolonged, self-contained moment.  Time had transformed itself. It was no longer chronological. It became the focus of consciousness. Now, in his experience, the reality of life functioned with much more intensity and far more meaning.  The result of this shift was that joy in particular, along with an accompanying gratitude, stood at the consistent core of his present life experience.

This gentleman’s story hit me at a very visceral level and it sparked within me a very important realization. What I came to understand from this conversation added another, vital element to the teaching from the Mishnah. In a very dramatic way, it gave me a greatly deepened perspective on one of the most central teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

The Baal Shem Tov placed supreme value on joy as the spiritual and emotional platform upon which service to God is based. Service to God, he taught, is predicated on approaching the divine with pure joy.  In the Kabbalah, the teaching is that to serve God is to love God and that love emerges from joy. They are both dimensions of Hesed, the highest level of experience we can reach consciously.

What I came away with from my discussion in the cafe was a heightened perspective of the function of joy. I had never made the equation between  “being in the moment” and “being in the state of joy”. It had not occurred to me, fully, that the two were actually the same in essence.

To fully be present in life is to be centered in the moment. The key to being centered in the moment is to appreciate the total expansiveness and inclusiveness of “now” and the beauty, awe and gratitude that such awareness generates.  Moreover, the key to such a reverential focus is to continually be positioning yourself within the spaciousness of joy through an open heart.

If I were to summarize the realization that I came to as a result of our conversation, it would be the following;

If one makes it a point to open one’s heart to God, consciously, on a daily basis, the  intention and focus move one  first into love  and then from there directly to joy. Once connected to the state of joy, one becomes fully involved, centered and present within the eternal moment that is the actual essence of life.

The key to communion with God is joy. Being in communion with God, holding an abiding sense of the holy through joy as a conscious focus in daily life places one squarely in the eternity of the moment. The past and the future are no longer anything more than mere adjuncts to our experience. They take on an auxiliary role and no longer dominate our thinking or our experience.  We become free to be ourselves.

In short, to open one’s heart to the divine is to bring oneself to the state of joy. To experience joy is to elevate your consciousness beyond the confines of time, which in turn places you directly in the moment, where one experiences the full essence of life, both its detail and its all-encompassing inclusiveness.

This equation is a very simple, yet extremely deep and profound reality. As the Kabbalists would say, “Consider this well, for it is a great secret.”

The Internal Process of Redemption

In the Tree of Life, the Kabbalist model of existence, the very center of human experience is the Sefirah of Tiferet, the level of the heart. The heart is seen as the core of our conscious connection with the world and with our lives in it. The heart is the psycho-emotional nexus that serves as the soul’s platform for being present in physical reality and acting out life purpose.

In other words, as sentient beings in the world, the Kabbalah sees the heart as our full conscious presence. We are totally present and conscious in life, only if we are operating effectively from the heart. Our experience in the world, our ability to receive from it and our work within it are all based on the combination of mind and emotion operating together from the heart perspective.

Full human consciousness in the world is understood to be the melding and balance of mind and emotion, which occur at the level of the heart. Being fully human means to be heart based and centeredness in the heart involves an internal balancing of thought and emotion.

The Kabbalist view is that one’s soul engages life through the heart. To be fully oneself and be present in life requires clarity, which in turn involves experiencing day-to-day existence specifically from an unencumbered psycho-emotional position. That is, being balanced mentally and emotionally in the heart centers us  and makes life a clear,  unobstructed reality. It is a way of being in the world and within ourselves at the same time to the highest degree possible. Being centered in Tiferet is the path of open heartedness, acceptance and compassion.

It is not hard for us to be thrown off course in life, if our heart energy is adversely effected, because we have lost our natural, internal center of gravity. Whatever encumbers or burdens the heart immediately impairs our ability to function as ourselves in the world. What shackles the heart is imbalance and the disruption of focus.

In order to understand this, we need to remember that the heart level, Tiferet is flanked on the left and right by four other Sefirot. Surrounding Tiferet are the Sefirot of Hesed, Gevurah, Netzakh and Hod. These are the forces of mind and emotion, in human terms. When functioning properly they support and give added expression to the heart’s energy. When out of balance, however, healthy psycho-emotional function is either thrown off track or worse, distorted.

Overemphasis or excessive focus on any or all of these levels can create a bondage of the heart, a restriction of the heart’s function and a distinct loss of psychological and emotional equilibrium. A heavy concentration of energy in one Sefirah leads to a depletion of energy in another, which invariably creates serious impairment and resulting malfunction, first in the heart and subsequently in the whole of one’s conscious existence. One’s life is no longer optimal. One is not free to be oneself, because the condition of balance has been undermined.

For example, taking on the concerns of others constantly is a distortion within Hesed. Excessive concern with one’s own issues is a malfunction in Gevurah. Not being able to sufficiently distinguish one’s own emotions from those of other people is a problem in Netzakh and harsh, incessant, internal self-judgment is a curse created in Hod. These are all distortions within the realms surrounding Tiferet. They have very detrimental effects that are all constrictive, impairing our ability to be truly heart centered and thereby fully oneself in life.

If we cannot fully live our lives, unable to be ourselves because the heart center is damaged, then we as individuals are under very serious constraint. Our ability to completely express who we are is being compromised due to the malfunction at our center. So, to a large extent our ability to fulfill our life purpose is under siege and we are in battle within ourselves. We are imprisoned by our own malfunctioning system.

How does one emancipate Self from the bondage of psychological and emotional imbalance and the chains it places on our being? The answer is through the process of Internal Redemption.

The basic meaning of the term “redeem” is to rescue something or someone through the act of purchase. In Kabbalist thought, one of the chief connotations of “redeem” is to restore someone to his or her original state. Energy therefore is exerted to rectify a state of denigration and re-establish the person’s integrity.

Redemption is not the healing process, though healing is often a decided effect. Redemption is not emancipation. Becoming free is the platform on which redemption can take place, but the redemption itself is the process of restoring an individual’s freedom of complete self-expression. Redemption is the return of a positive sense of self and the re-instatement of full function as a soul operating in the world.

When our heart has been burdened, weighed down, constrained or shut down, redemption is the process of readjusting the balance between thought and feeling. It is the realignment of the mind and the emotions, so that they become a united, inner harmony, a balanced ebb and flow of psycho-emotional interplay. That is the sign of a healthy, heart-based individual, who is fully and consciously present in the world and in the moment.

So, how is this accomplished?

The key is in the center pillar of the Tree. To regain the centrality of the heart, to bring back a reality of heart-based existence, requires reversing the displacement of energy that has taken place.

To engage the areas of overload directly either will exacerbate or possibly complicate the problem. At best, if a solution can be created by working through the problem areas, it will be a complex one. One is dealing with a bewildering array of variables and interactions that occur at this level, between Hesed, Gevurah, Netzakh and Hod.

To effectively bring Tiferet back into balance primarily involves drawing on the spiritual plane and allowing ones own inner light and wisdom to emanate down from the depths of one’s being, from the hidden realm of Keter, Khochmah and Binah.

The spiritual force of the soul, when one deliberately connects with it, will reach the heart directly and re-align it with life purpose as a matter of course. The resulting restoration of the heart will then redistribute the energy and bring all of the surrounding Sefirot back to normal function and harmony. The soul has to be called to redeem the heart. The heart redeemed, then rectifies the energy balance and flow within the surrounding realms. It simply does not work the other way around.

As the Kabbalists would say, this is a great mystery and one should ponder it very carefully.

Rabbi Fisdel

April 2011

 

New Website Launched

I am very pleased to announce that my new website has been launched. Please take a moment to check it out. I’m sure you’ll find it of interest.

You can find information on how to sign up for Private Tutorials, Bet Midrash Services, and also find several articles on Kabbalah.

Feel free to share it with friends, family, and colleagues you think would benefit from it.

www.classicalkabbalist.org

 

Gratitude as a Response to Love

In the Kabbalah, one of the ways that a person develops his or her character is through  taking on “middot” (spiritual qualities). The process involves that of taking a positive moral attribute, focusing on it consistently and incorporating it consciously into daily life.  By actively working with a particular attribute over a period of time, one not only begins to resonate with it on deeper and deeper levels, but is gradually able to assimilate it into their being and translate it into their way of life.

One of the most important attributes that a person can possess in life that is essential to spiritual development and the service of the divine is that of gratitude.  To gain an appropriate understanding of gratitude, one needs to realize that gratitude is actually an interplay between the forces of Hesed and Gevurah  (love and courage).

In the Tree of Life, the level of Hesed is understood to be love in the full, universal sense.  This is the level of complete expansiveness and embrace. The counterpart of Hesed, the level of Gevurah, courage,  is the realm of judgment, discernment and inner thought.

The interaction between the two levels, that of Hesed and that of Gevurah is the reality that produces relationship and generates energy.

In Kabbalah, there is a very intimate connection between energy and relationship. When you have two forces that stand face to face to each other in a relationship, energy is produced. When energy is generated, it fuels the relationship. When Hesed, love, expands outward it must be accepted, contained and held in order for it to find expression and fulfillment. This is the function of Gevurah, inner focus.  One loves in order to be loved. One is supported by being supportive. Thus, there is a genuine reciprocity.

The quality of gratitude has dimensions in both realms.   Gratitude originates in Gevurah and is expressed in Hesed. It is a process from inner to outer.   Gratitude is a response to goodness that has been received. For example, a person that you know realizes that you are having a hard time and brings you a gift to cheer you up. The act is unsolicited and very welcome. It is well thought out and coming from a place of the heart.

The appropriate response to such a heartfelt act is gratitude. From the level of Gevurah, we recognize the nature of what is being offered to us. We accept the kindness and we internalize it. If we have cultivated the quality of  gratitude, it gets expressed through Hesed, which encompasses the  dimensions of appreciation, gratefulness and joy. Because this individual has reached out to us, gratitude is the means by which we extend  our light and love back in response.

The energy being formed by an act of loving kindness, extended, accepted and appreciated nurtures a relationship between the two parties involved. It bonds them together. There is, in essence, a great interdependency between the giver and the receiver. For an act of love and caring to take place, it must be generated on one side by genuine concern and received with heartfelt sincerity, on the other.

An act of love is the extension of self, coming from the heart level. Gratitude is the opening of the heart by the recipient. The common denominator here is what is happening in the heart. The transmission of love and concern on the part of the giver is an  intentionally directed expansiveness, originating at the level of Hesed. The recognition and acceptance of that love on the part of the recipient is the acknowledgment that takes place within Gevurah.

True acknowledgment of the good we receive comes in the form of gratefulness.  Through gratitude, we recognize the goodness and the light that is being directed toward us. We are giving the love sent to us a validity first by holding it, then by internalizing it and finally, by being truly grateful for it.

Expressing gratitude is a very primal and necessary quality in life. When we express how grateful we truly are, we are moving the energy of the love and light we’ve received back to Hesed, its origin. We are bringing the energy full circle. To contain and accept the love being offered us is not enough, because relationships are reciprocal and the reciprocity is what creates energy.

Love received, but not reciprocated because of a lack of gratitude, loses a fair proportion of its strength.  Energy without support diminishes. That is the law of resistance. However, love that is sent to back toward its source because it is being reinforced by the light of heartfelt gratitude is magnified exponentially.

This is so, because without gratitude the light is received but not enhanced. No energy is being added to the original  impulse. Hence the energy is constrained and diminished. When one is truly grateful and the gratitude comes from the heart, the energy of the recipient is added to the original energy.  The two are bound together.

What happens is, the act of responding with gratitude  draws on one’s own energy, melds it to the love received, thereby magnifying the light and it’s force as  the energy is being returned to source.

So, in the cycle of love, gratitude and response, the movement is from the level of Hesed to Gevurah and back to Hesed. This cyclical movement of energy creates a bond of a relationship between giver and receiver. The bond, in response, energizes the relationship.  The whole gestalt is enhanced. Both parties in the relationship benefit.

A relationship has to exist between the two in order for the original concern and love to be directed toward the recipient, as well as for the recipient to be in a position to receive the energy. The energy created by the response of gratitude deepens the connection between both parties. It is good to care. It is good to receive the love. It is good to strengthen the love with the warmth and humility of gratitude.

This cycle of light, moving from Hesed to Gevurah and back, deepens the relationship between giver and receiver through a process that intensifies the energy that was set into motion. Love, strengthened through recognition and gratitude, upon its return, fortifies the bonds of relationship; the result for both individuals involved being personal growth and spiritual evolution. For as a result of this cycle and the accompanying process, the levels of Hesed (loving kindness) and Gevurah (strength) have been  significantly enlarged in both parties.

In relationship, what happens with one party has a direct effect upon the other and their response, in turn, creates a certain unity of experience  between them. The overall effect of their interaction, specifically when it is cyclical, impacts both parties and frequently in a similar manner.

This is particularly true in relationships in which the intention is outreach and bonding. The interaction between acts of love and concern and the response of gratitude, both magnifies the energy involved, as well as produces pronounced growth in the areas of Hesed, extension of self toward others and Gevurah, self understanding.

Understand that through the force of gratitude, both Hesed and Gevurah are fortified and stimulated to  develop, simultaneously, within each of the individuals separately and within the relationship itself, in general. That is the great power and benefit of  cultivating and incorporating within yourself the ability to be consistently grateful.

Rabbi Fisdel

March 3, 2011

About Light, Creation and Us

The view in Kabbalah regarding the nature of light and its function is founded on the Creation narrative in Genesis. Biblically, when the heavens and earth were created initially the earth was in chaos and amorphous. God’s command, “let there be light” not only brings light into existence, but makes it the very foundation upon which creation stands.

The light at first is implicit in the darkness. God refers to the light as goodness and this reference is made before God separates the light from the dark. The light is then made manifest in its own right. At the point where this occurs, dark and light become the revolving cycle of time and of life. There is evening and then morning as each subsequent day of creation emerges.

As God first makes heaven and earth, the earth plane is described as a deep, dark field of chaos and turmoil. Since the darkness is specifically associated with the earth level as it emerges, light by implication is confined originally at the higher level of the heavens. On the earth plane, light is still hidden within the darkness. The heavens are stable and the earth is not. Light and the divine will implicit in it are at first contained in the heavens, not yet manifest on the earthly plane.

The earth at this point has been created, but not yet formatted. So then God says, “Let there be light”, meaning that light is being extended from the higher planes toward the primordial commotion on earth. The effect on our level, the earth plane, is dramatic and vital. Once the light enters this level, it establishes itself here by separating the experience of light from that of dark. Once integrated into our reality, the interplay of light and dark becomes the experience of good and the cycle of life. The reality of light per se is the ordering principle of creation. The presence of light creates and sustains order. There is evening. Then there is morning and another day of creation is finished. Light emerges and follows the darkness in the flow of creative forces. By doing so, the principle of light progressively brings things into existence and then serves as the force behind evolution and development.

On each day of creation a new level of reality unfolds successively. Light follows
the dark. The waters are separated and dry land appears. Then there is darkness again succeeded by light and vegetation appears on the land. The cycle of dark and light repeats and animals begin to appear and so on. Light is the understood as the force that both brings order to chaos, creates the cycles of time and also directs the forces of life that cause progression, change and development in all that exists in the world.

In the physical universe, darkness is the primal matter, the unformed frenetic commotion, waiting to be acted upon and given form and meaning. The dark is the potential of life. In response to the dark and in fulfillment of it is the light. It is the light, which acts upon the deep, on the vast ocean of darkness and potential.

The word of God, the articulation of the divine thought, ‘Let there be light’ is the act of bringing creation, the universe, as we know it, into clear focus and explicit form. Light is the organizational principle that brings everything into definition and imparts function and purpose to all that is. Light is also the very driving force behind change and evolution, which are the central pillars of physical existence. Light represents the flow of life and the expression of our experience as created beings.

Light is the manifestation of the divine will on all levels of existence. The soul is an
eternal spark of the divine, an intense focal point of pure light. So, as long as we are present on the earth, we must remain fully conscious of our role and responsibility here. Our task is to continually bring through the light of creative genius and by doing so, create new levels of meaning and understanding in the world in order to further the evolution of life experience.

We must remain ever conscious of the reality that we as souls are the very embodiment of light on the physical plane, which implies enormous responsibility. That is the essence of the Biblical message. May it be in our hearts and in the forefront of our minds always.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel

The True Dynamics of Prayer

There are times in the course of our lives, when circumstances impel us to talk to God directly, to pray from the depths of our souls and to express our thoughts and emotions freely, outside the context of formal prayer. We feel the need to pray to God in a straightforward, personal, intimate manner.

When attempting to do so, we experience one of the most difficult aspects of personal prayer; formulating a starting point. If one is seeking to express themselves to God directly from the heart, the hardest part of the process is knowing where exactly to begin.

The true beginning of prayer is not knowing what to say. If one is coming to stand before God, what is there to say? What can we tell God, that God does not already know? Faced with the realization of how vast the universe is, we are often overwhelmed and speechless. How much more so, are we overcome with awe and humbled, when we approach the Creator of the Universe?

In human perception, the distance between God and man can often appear to be so vast, that God seems unapproachable or remote. Under such conditions, prayer would seem to be of no value nor of any purpose. One cannot get close to God, if God is so distant as to be felt to be beyond reach. This view of our relationship to God is really not workable. If one clings to the perception that God is remote and unreachable, there is really nowhere to go.

Prayer is best understood in different terms. Prayer, in Jewish tradition, is not meant to be recited per se. Rather, prayers are meant to be expressed. Prayer should not be relegated to mere verbal explanation or to the reciting of doctrine. True prayer is the meditation of the heart. Prayer, in its essence, is affirmation of our intimate relationship with God.

In the days when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, worship was the act of sacrifice. In acknowledgement for what God had provided, or in acceptance of God’s Will, or in admission of a mistake, one would give something back to God. The offering could be the first fruits of the field. It could be a harvest offering, part of the bounty one received. What one offered to God was one’s most prized possession. One gave something of himself or herself.

The sacrifices were prescribed in detail by biblical law. God set down quite a number of Mitzvot regarding the exact nature of each of the sacrifices. The prayers recited were supplemental to the act of offering the sacrifice. Prayer was left up to the individual to express. King David wrote prayers and psalms to God from his own personal experience. The Levites in the Temple composed the liturgy themselves. The prophets and seers created songs and poems to God, throughout the Biblical period. As occasions arose, and the people were overcome by joy and thanksgiving, prayer was created spontaneously. This tradition extends all the way back to Moses and Miriam.

True prayer is the expression of heartfelt emotion. It is our dialogue with God. Whether we choose to put our hearts and souls into the prayers of the traditional liturgy, or whether we create our own, whether we meditate on the words of others or put our feelings into the wordless melodies of Niggunim, the same objective is being accomplished. We are reconnecting with God, through emotional reaffirmation.

We are affirming our essence as created beings by allowing ourselves to express our sense of self, our sense of thanksgiving and our sense of joy. We are open to communicating our exhilaration as created essences, directly to the Creator. By opening our hearts, we sing, we articulate, we rejoice and we connect with that which is at the heart of all existence, God’s Love and God’s Presence in the World.

To pray fully, is to allow the soul to open up and to reaffirm its connection with God, by honoring the experiences of one’s life. It is in the day to day world that we learn about ourselves. It is in the mundane realm of everyday life, that we experience joy and sadness, hope and disappointment, success and failure. What exalts these events and makes them important, are two factors; how we understand them and how we express them.

By expressing our feelings and emotions to God directly and by articulating our needs and our perceptions, we spiritualize our experience and elevate it to the level of holiness. We exalt our life, by elevating our life experience to the level of communication with God. That is why prayer followed sacrifice. From the doing, comes the understanding. From the understanding comes the joy. From the joy come the exaltation and the gratitude.

When we can drop the ego, and fall back to the point of true humility, when we are not too proud or too stubborn to talk to God, directly, heart to heart, then we give real meaning to our lives. Through true prayer, that which is heartfelt and consciously focused, we spiritualize our earthly existence. We transcend the plane of mundane consciousness and ascend to the higher realms of being, when we choose to live our lives as dialogues with God.
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To achieve communion with God, we must understand and offer prayer in its truest form, as emotional affirmation and as dialogue with God. We need to structure our lives as perpetual expressions of that interaction, which is the essence of prayer, thereby elevating the experiential content and spiritual awareness of our earthly existence. Let our prayers be like rivers, that well up from deep beneath the surface and create their own paths as they grow and extend toward their source.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel

Spiritual Emergence

There are periods within our lives, when we, as individuals, go through tremendous internal change and deep soul searching. During such periods of introspection, transition and self evaluation, whether or not we are consciously aware of it, we have made a commitment to God and to ourselves. We have undertaken to do great inner work. We have committed our inner being to laboring, diligently, toward achieving greater self understanding. Through this process of internal focus, we deliberately orient our conscious selves toward facilitating our own spiritual growth.

In Jewish tradition, this process of inner soul work is an annual occurance. It begins with the High Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and culminates on the festival of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Having passed through a three week period of deep soul searching, rectification, repentance and atonement, an individual emerges from the most intense and most spiritually charged periods of the Jewish year.

If one has done the work self examination effectively, he or she has succeeded in transforming themselves internally. They have utilized, properly, the Days of Judgement (the High Holidays) for inner cleansing and spiritual realignment and have reaffirmed their relationship to God, through gratitude and joy during the season of Thanksgiving (Sukkot-Simchat Torah).

Deep inner work, when done in earnest, brings with it very practical consequences on the psychological, emotional and spiritual levels. If we have carried out, fully, the process of searching our souls, admitting our mistakes, rectifying the damage we have done and realigning ourselves to the good, the flow of divine love, we come out of this experience, holy, cleansed and reborn. For we have reached within and faced our own failings. We have reconciled with God and now, place our complete trust in God’s compassion and guidance. A great door has been opened.

Once a door is opened, many things can happen. You can find the morning paper or the dog can get loose. Guests and friends can arrive or an unwanted solicitor can. Regardless, the result is that by opening the door, fresh air circulates, connecting you with the greater world outside. You find that you are free to come and go. There are a lot of possibilities. Some anticipated and some totally unexpected.

The same holds true, when one opens the door of the heart. True return to God and to Self must come from the heart. Without emotion or without allowing for the meditations of the heart and the inner knowingness it provides, we would not be human. It is the heart, that makes us in the image of God. By allowing for the opening of the heart, much is brought to the surface and to the point of direct experience. Some of what comes forth from within, is anticipated. Some is accepted. Some is welcome. Some is overpowering.

During spiritual change, we are constantly being prompted to move forward, to move beyond where we were, to where we need to be next. Often, our conscious mind is the last part of our being to know this. It is the conscious mind that is also the most resistant to change, frequently. In the intensity of periods of deep internal transformation and due to their enormous potency, one can encounter a storm of powerful feelings. One can experience an upsurge of issues or an onslaught of events, which are, completely unanticipated and quite possibly, totally overwhelming. This is part of the process of spiritual emergence.

I would define spiritual emergence as an internal shift, prompted by the soul, that changes one’s life by altering one’s perspective. This type of change can be very abrupt and disconcerting. However, it will lead one to the next level of spiritual awareness and development, if one chooses to ride the process out.

When a spiritual shift takes place that is being orchestrated from within, emotions long suppressed or left unacknowledged, can explode to the surface in order to be recognized and dealt with. Events can occur, that shake the foundation of a person’s beliefs and disrupt the traditional ways one has looked at or approached something. What is happening is important to understand.

When you experience such a shift, your inner being has made a decision. It decided, that not only is it necessary for you to move on spiritually, but also that you are ready and able to handle it, whether your mind thinks so or not. It is laying the cards out on the table and you have to play out the hand. If you handle the situations presented to you, if you work out the life puzzles before you and weather the emotional storm, you will emerge a spiritually stronger and more integrated person.

There is no right or wrong way to handle what your inner self is impelling you to deal with. The critically important element is simply, that it is handled and processed. Then and only then, does one move on.

When one, successfully, works through this soul directed process of change, one passes through and moves beyond guilt and shame. One arrives, ultimately, at the point of spiritual maturation. Here, guilt and shame have dissipated forever. The choice one faces, here, is crucial. The choice is between learning to grow, spiritually, as a soul or delaying progress, indefinitely, by not facing one’s issues.

To expand and develop spiritually is the essence of existence on all levels of being. Spiritual evolution is the very core of life. Sometimes, we are lead to seek the path and walk it diligently. We are prompted to make changes and are given the insight and courage to embark on the journey. At other times, the door is suddenly thrust open and we are booted out, finding ourselves on the road, de facto. Sometimes, that is the way it has to be. The choice to move on spiritually can come from conscious choice or it can be thrust upon us from deep within. The former path is that of spiritual quest. The latter one is the route of spiritual emergence. Either way, one finds themselves on the road to soul development.

Whichever way one comes to embark on the path, it will eventually be the cause of great excitement, anticipation and joy. For the road leads to God. It is the path of life improvement on all levels. It is the way of peace, if walked in honesty and integrity. Spiritual emergence is one’s arrival at a new crossroads in life. This is a sacred event. It is not to be feared. It is to be welcomed.

Travel the road of spiritual emergence and pursuit with earnestness and devotion. Always bear in mind, that the conflict, pain, anxiety and confusion, you may encounter, are only signs along the roadside. They are, by no means, the road itself. The way of the spirit is the path of inner peace.