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.

Recognizing Spiritual Transformation

In human experience, we tend to recognize change far more quickly when it is dramatic, rather than gradual. If something suddenly emerges or rapidly collapses, we are struckby the change and as a result, we feel a need to deal with it or at least cope with it. Change that takes place more gradually, however, such as the maturation processor the aging process, takes more time to notice. After the change has long since established itself, some event or observation occurs that triggers our awareness that a transformation has already taken place and we are first becoming aware of it.

The reality of spiritual change is that not only is it often a gradual process, it is also generally very subliminal. When physical changes take place, there are obvious external signs as well as changes in ones abilities. One cannot avoid noticing these types of developments. Spiritual change presents a greater challenge.

For one thing, we are all aware that both physical maturation and physical aging take place at certain points in our lives, and that these changes are going to effect us; that we will have to accommodate nature. Not as many of us are as keenly aware that as human beings we go through spiritual evolution, as well, in the course of our lives. When the spirit transforms, there are rarely too many obvious external manifestations.

Ironically, spiritual changes are often transformations that are at least as profound as physical changes are, though they are much harder to recognize unless one attunes oneself to them; something a person must train themselves to do. In actuality, the process of spiritual evolution is of far more long term import than its physical, emotional or intellectual counterparts. It is from the spirit, the level of the soul, that the intellectual, emotional and physical spring. It is the soul that is the core of our lives in This World. It is the soul that survives into the Next World. Therefore, what happens to the soul in its evolution of the utmost importance.

Interestingly enough, most people are most cognizant of, and attendant to, physical change. If we are suffering from a physical illness, we seek relief. If we experience physical discomfort, disability or change, we tend to pay attention to it and to seek rectification or rehabilitation.

Many people are attuned to intellectual and emotional distress or dysfunction. When we are confused or having a difficult time psychologically or emotionally, we tend to process with close friends, trusted relatives, or professionals in these areas. We confide in those close to us, who we feel can understand what we are going through and who can offer us sympathy, support and guidance. In the case of spiritual growth that is taking place within the individual, far fewer people recognize the change, let aside have any clear idea of how to manage it effectively.

Emotion and intellect function as processes. As we experience things emotionally and as we learn, we undergo a process of experience, internalization, integration and assimilation. By going through things experientially, we are provided with the raw material for growth. By emotionally and intellectually processing what we have experienced, our personality develops and evolves.

What is not clearly understood often, is that our emotional and psychological maturation leads directly to yet a third and most critical process, that of spiritual growth. When we have gone through developmental breakthroughs and reached new psychological and emotional levels, the internal material is provided for spiritual growth. At this point, processing begins on the deep level of the soul itself. The soul begins a process of deep self evaluation, self redefinition and transformation, for spiritual change is actually the evolution of the soul.

On a spiritual level, this level of processing is in many ways very subtle. Yet, there are ways to recognize that the process of spiritual change is taking place. As the soul begins to redefine itself and its context in the world, there are several manifestations. First, there is a full, general withdrawal into oneself. One can find himself or herself feeling very distant from everything that is going on around them. It begins to get difficult, trying to handle more than than one thing at a time.

Moreover, communicating with others may also become harder. There is a strong sense of needing a great deal of space and a lot of quiet. At the same time, one finds themselves operating with very low energy levels. It often seems like a great effort to get anything done at all, regardless of how small the task.

This is all due to the fact that the soul is working on the deepest inner levels of self, which require a great amount of energy. Subsequently, energy is pulled from all three of the other areas of the conscious self. We are drained physically, emotionally
and mentally, temporarily. It is very important to realize when going through spiritual transformation, that there is nothing wrong. One is not falling apart. What is merely happening is a massive transference of energy to deep within oneself. Accept that fact and you can flow with the process.

Second, as a result of the work being done on the deep inner levels of self, a great deal of shifting will take place. One finds many of their attitudes and perceptions changing. One’s beliefs and views about themselves, about their lives, about their relationships, about the world in general, are suddenly in flux. This often leads to a state of psychological and emotional discomfort. One can feel very confused and disoriented.

This is not surprising. If one is going through spiritual change, one is going through inner transformation on the deepest levels.

Many of the old structures of perception and belief are being dismantled, and disposed of, by the psyche. This creates an emptiness. In the void that is produced, there is not very much that is familiar. There is precious little to hold on to. Consequently, this can be very disconcerting. One simply must be patient and wait for the soul to build the new structures it needs. Keep in mind, that the process of spiritual transformation is one of restructuring for the future. One’s energy is diverted only as long as the reconstruction process requires it. It is not a permanent state of affairs. Let it run its course.

Third, the soul must also communicate to the conscious self what is transpiring, what transformations are taking place and what these changes mean. This is a purely internal interaction of the soul communicating with the mind. What happens in this communication can manifest in several ways. While one is going through this inner process of spiritual change and transformation, dreaming may be intensified. One’s dreams will then come to consciousness more forcefully and more frequently than normal. The dreams become very vivid, and easier to remember. These dreams are often very important messages from the soul to the conscious mind. There is usually heightened awareness during spiritual transformation. So, one also experiences deep insights, a series of intuitive flashes of understanding, and the periodic realization of changed perspectives.

Bear in mind, that spiritual transformation is not a regular, fixed occurrence. Unlike physical development, it does not come automatically as a function of time. It comes when we have grown sufficiently emotionally and psychologically and have reached a point in our lives when we are truly ready for soul growth. When that happens the soul itself takes over. On a conscious level all we can do is acknowledge what is transpiring deep within ourselves, and allow ourselves to flow with it.

To paraphrase a great rabbi; To have a door of opportunity open and not seize it is a great transgression. To not be aware of our spiritual state and not seek to develop it, is a tragic oversight. To go through the profound process of spiritual shifting and transformation of the soul, choosing not recognizing it when it occurs and not honoring it as a result, that is truly a sin.

Whether we acknowledge our spirit or not, the soul grows regardless. We all evolve spiritually whether we care to recognize it or not. There is no way to interfere with soul development. It is beyond conscious control.

The difference is that when a person learns to recognize the signs of spiritual
processing, he or she comes to a point of accepting their essence. When one embraces their own inner evolution, one connects with their soul and with the innermost core of who they are. That experience, which is voluntary and is directed by conscious choice, is the act of willfully uniting mind and heart with the soul. That experience is an act of moving toward God. It is an act of self realization and of self affirmation on the highest level. When we come to know ourselves better, we come to understand the Creator better. The road to Self is internal. The way to God lies within. They are parallel. They are the same.

Rabbi Fisdel

On Being Present and Conscious

Many people have remarked to me over the past few years that, in their experience, time seems to be speeding up. Their lives seem, somehow, to be in a fast forward mode. The feeling is that time is going by very quickly and yet, not enough, if anything, is really being accomplished. Either, there is an increasing amount to do with a shrinking time frame in which to do it or a lot of time has passed, in a flow of fog, and one is not sure how exactly this happened.

Much of the reality of time is how we experience it. If time seems to have disappeared, evaporated or have passed unnoticeably, the problem is not time. The problem is distraction. Distraction is the loss of focus. It is the loss of our sense of direction. It occurs when we become so rapped up in the events of our lives, that we lose track of the reality of our lives. When we become enmeshed in the process of earthly existence, we end up disconnected and distant from the purpose our souls have for being here.

To live our lives to the fullest, it is most important that we are not distracted. We must be vigilant in making sure that we are not thrown off track in the course of our everyday life. For, if our daily life is impaired, damaged or negated, it impacts heavily on the entire fabric of our existence. If the course of our lives is diverted from its true path, our potential is not being fulfilled, and our life purpose is not being achieved.

If we are not in touch with our true self, our true feelings and our soul’s purpose, we are not really alive. We are merely subsisting in an illusion. We are functioning, but we are not fulfilling. We are struggling to exist, but we are not truly living. The result of not living one’s purpose is to end up existing in a state of distraction.

Whether one is numbed or obsessed, blown away or driven, euphoric or in great pain, it is all distraction. Daily life with its survivalist pressures, its peaks and valleys, its mercurial demands, its conflicts and its pain can often draw much of one’s energy, concern and attention into the heart of the storm. The more one is pulled into the tempest of earthly struggle, the farther one is drawn away from self. One becomes lost in the maelstrom of need and desire.

The real You, the soul, cannot be heard through all of the noise nor be felt through all of the commotion. The still, small voice within is simply overpowered. The result is that we either identify with the storm, making our lives intense and dramatic or we seek to escape the turbulence altogether. The sense, that time is moving very quickly, is often the result of being lost in space, emotionally, psychologically and psychically.

How do we reconnect with our Self? How do we reestablish our link to life purpose? How do we learn to disengage from the level of duality, the level of psychological and emotional turbulence and to live our lives from the perspective of the soul?

In the Mishnah, in Tractate “Pirkei Avot”, we are advised, that to truly experience life, to live life from the soul’s perspective, one should live every day of one’s life as if it were one’s last day on earth. Live each day of your life as if it were the day of your death. That is the instruction. It is a profoundly important and transformative approach to life.

Judaism teaches that the soul is the essence of each individual, that the soul was formed before we were born into the earthly realm and will exist eternally in higher worlds, when the soul finally departs from the mortal coil. Death is the transition point between mortal life and eternal life, Between this world and the next world, is the eternal moment.

If we experience each day as the last day of our lives, each day has a totality and a finality of it’s own. It is the culmination of everything that came before it and it is the very focus of our life, for there is no future as we have understood or experienced it. The past is fully absorbed in the present and the future is fully nascent in the self same present. It is all one. There is only today. One comes to live in the reality of every moment, because the reality of the moment is all that is.

By living one’s life as if each day was the last, each day of our life becomes a day of judgment and a day of salvation. One’s life becomes one long day of truth, of focus, of light and of life purpose. This day of fulfillment is the day of salvation. On this day, illusion disappears. On this day, distraction ends. On this day, time no longer regulates nor dominates your life. Rather, it melts away into timelessness. One is free. One is free to simply be.

May we all heed well, the words of our sages and return to our essence, reconnecting with our purpose, living our lives from the perspective of the soul and daily expressing the true nature of  our unique spirits. In this we receive direct assistance from God. There is no human endeavor, that God is more interested in.

Rabbi Fisdel

The Two Sides of Spiritual Experience

As souls, the very core of our being is our spiritual essence, the divine spark of infinite light that is who we truly are as reflections of God. From that holy place, all the manifestations of self emerge and are sustained.

In the view of the Kabbalah, all levels of consciousness are interrelated and all emerge from the exact same source, namely from the soul. So, everything that expresses who we are is actually an extension of our essence. Our minds, our emotions and our bodies are all projected realities revealing different dimensions of the soul. Our mental, emotional and physical lives are all derivatives of the spirit seeking to express itself fully.

It is not at all difficult for us to understand experience as what is happening to us, what is transpiring in our lives and how we are relating to it. After all, our physical experience and our emotional responses to it constitute life as we are living it.

What is somewhat more difficult to grasp is the realization that our thoughts, reflections and perceptual patterns also constitute experience. A direct and abiding connection exists between what is transpiring in our lives , what we are feeling about it and what we believe. It is the mind that constructs the context of our reality. It is our thoughts and our beliefs that impart order and give meaning to life.

The decisions we make that direct our lives and that have such impact on us and on everyone around us are all predicated on the conceptual framework that we hold internally. So, our minds are intimately tied to our emotions and our external reality as an integral part of our overall life experience. We live our lives consciously through the interplay of physical stimulus and interaction with the world, through emotional response and through the learning process. This triad of experiential realities forms the very basis of life as we know and understand it.

The question then arises; if the events in our lives, our emotional responses to them and what we conclude from them constitute our life experience,then what exactly is spiritual experience per se? the answer to this question is straightforward in statement, yet complex in its implications.

In Kabbalist teaching, the soul is the origin of mind, emotion and physical being in the world. Soul itself is hidden. Yet, it is knowable through its extension of these three capacities. The realm of spirit with all its inner dynamics is hidden within, just as a tree’s roots are buried in the earth. From the roots, a tree’s trunk, branches and leaves emerge and interact with the world around it. The same process holds true for mental, emotional and physical consciousness. They emanate as extensions of the soul.

A tree standing tall in the external world is effected directly by its environment and by what is happening in the natural world surrounding it. Though not necessarily openly exposed, the roots of the tree are just as heavily impacted. The roots are not only part of the tree, they are the foundational level.

On the same token, since the soul is the root of all consciousness in the world, everything we experience in our lives impacts us spiritually. We live from the soul and our overall life experience reflects back the spiritual energy being put forth and played out. So, it can be said that spiritual experience is essentially the effect that life experience has on the soul.

Spiritual consciousness emanates out into the world as mental, emotional and physical process. This process, we refer to as life. We live life through these dimensions of soul.  Through the process of living, we give conscious expression to the soul, which in turn absorbs and assimilates the energy. As the soul takes in the experience of our lives, it transforms it into spiritual experience. It translates and reformulates what we have experienced cognitively and emotionally into essential knowledge of self. the soul absorbs what is of essence and important to it as pure spiritual content.

This level of spiritual experience is primal and central to the very mystery of life itself. The process of transforming life experience into spiritual essence occurs at the deepest levels of consciousness, totally and completely hidden from our view and our awareness.

There is, however, another aspect to spiritual experience that not only can we access, but we are actually meant to connect with and be deeply effected by it. This dimension of spiritual experience has multiple facets and its purpose is to specifically expand and elevate consciousness.

The entire process of life transpires within the framework of the seven lower sefirot of the Kabbalist Tree of Life, from Hesed to Malkhut. What we are cognizant of occurs at the mental plane of Hesed, Gevurah and Tiferet. What we feel operates within the realm of Netzakh, Hod and Yesod and what we work with and experience is taking place physically in the Sefirah of Malkhut.

The physical and psycho-emotional activity that occur within the structure of these three levels of the Tree of Life effect the spiritual plane of Keter, Hokhmah and Binah in two distinct ways. Firstly, as already discussed, the life experience taking place below on the mental, emotional and physical levels is translated by the the upper sefirot, the spiritual forces guided by the soul, into meaningful spiritual essence. It is the sefirah of Binah that takes in that essence, which is the transformed energy of life experience. Subsequently, it is assimilated into the soul as holy energy at the Keter level through the intervention of the sefirah of Hokhmah.

In other words, one process that takes place as spiritual experience is the conversion of life experience into pure, spiritual energy so that it can be absorbed by the soul. The other process that occurs, which is also spiritual experience, involves direct awareness of spirit and the resulting elevation of consciousness. here, the quality of our life experience when taken into Binah, can be transferred to the innermost depths of of pure consciousness so as to add its light to the light of being, thereby enriching the soul.

When the restructured energy of our life experience is pure enough and strong enough to add increased vibrancy to the hidden light of our innermost consciousness, the result is soul growth. When soul growth occurs, the effects are profound and they become perceptible.

The ensuing effects of this level of spiritual awareness are truly transformative,
altering one’s entire perception of self and relationship to the world. One experiences a heightened sense of the holy, which translates into a far greater sense of the sacredness of self and the soul’s relationship to God. Between oneself, the universe and the divine there is a very tangible sense of interrelationship and connectedness.

When spiritual experience becomes spiritual awareness, our cognitive focus shifts from “Mokhin de Katnut”, limited, restricted consciousness centered on personal and worldly concerns to “Mokhin de Gadlut”, expanded consciousness that elevates us. In this state, we come to understand more deeply our neshamah, our very essence and at the same time we become intensively aware intuitively of our abiding relationship to God.

In this context, our consciousness ascends and suddenly we are in touch with the level of Hokhmah and Binah. In the vast quietude of spirit, we experience a true sense of self, one that is not referenced to nor dependent on persona, process or relationship to other.

At this level, we glimpse the totality of self and engage with an all encompassing sense of our being. From the sefirah of Binah, we experience profound awe and deep reverence for God, creation and self. From Hokhmah, we feel infinite possibility and a tremendous depth of clarity. Through Binah and Hokhmah, we are brought to a contact point with soul. Emanating from the supernal hiddeness of Keter, the level of essence itself, we come to experience the ultimate spiritual reality, peace.

Such palpable, core spiritual experience happens often as an intensified moment of timelessness. It is not a constant state on the cognitive level. It is, however, the catalyst and the subsequent foundation for spiritual evolution. Its effect is enduring on the subliminal level. For true spiritual experience alters the very nature and structure of our inner world. The value of such penetrating change and internal transformation is immeasurable. Every such shift of internal reality, based on the work we are doing through our life experience moves us spiritually to the next level of becoming, to the next plane of soul evolution. Achieving soul growth and spiritual redefinition is an absolutely
vital element of one’s life work. It is simply not optional.

Uprooting Idolatry

The actual practice of worshiping foreign gods passed out of existence in Israel at the end of the biblical period. The sin of idolatry on that level has ceased to be an issue in Jewish spiritual life millennia ago. Yet, idolatry still exists in different forms and continues to plague human life. This is true even among our own people. There are modern forms of idolatry, just as insidious as the original.

The worship of other gods entails an abandonment of God. One’s alligence cannot be in two mutually exclusive places at the same time. To put one’s faith and trust anywhere other than in God is the supreme act of idolatry. Such a course of action is to make a deliberate break with God. Idolatry is a repudiation of God’s will, a desertion of the Mitzvot and a direct breach with the Covenant made between us and God at Mount Sinai.

We as Jews undertook to fulfill a covenant with God when we stood at Mount Sinai. We accepted the responsibility of living our lives in accordance with God’s Law, the Torah. The very first two commandments tie us to a complete acceptance and allegiance to God and His Mitzvot. To place faith and trust anywhere else is to abrogate the covenant with God and to repudiate His will and our relationship to Him.

The Dead Sea Scrolls refer to idolatry as “the idolatry of the heart”. It defines this type of idolatry in various ways. It defines it primarily, as “the worship of gold and silver’. The scrolls see materialism as a core evil in human experience. If one focuses their life efforts and their daily concerns heavily on material possession, if one places their trust and hope in financial security, the acquisition of wealth becomes the emotional center of their lives. It dominates their lives and their thinking as a result.

The spiritual center of such individuals is linked to materialism, not to God. They worship gold and silver. In modern terms, this means that such people are emotionally tied to material possession, and driven to continually acquire wealth and strive continually for financial security. Their faith is put in the illusion of power and security that wealth produces.

Our focus as individuals should be on developing our potential as unique creations. We need to be focusing our lives on who we can become and how we can fully express who we are, rather than on increasing what we have, so we can feel more safe. We need to be more secure within ourselves and less concerned with the illusion of external security. This is the issue of faith.

Where does one put their faith?

There are two basic possibilities. One can put their faith in the outside world. One can place their fate in the hands of external forces and seek to gain wealth, power, influence, position, external structure and physical security or one can put their faith in God.

One can seek within and strive to connect with the Creator and to do God’s will.
One can choose to place his/her faith in themselves and rely on the inner security of knowing who you are and that God will assist you, if you call upon God in truth and sincerety. That is the biblical message.

The scrolls also define the ramifications of idolatry. They point out, that idolatry is a separation from the will of God. It leads an individual to setting himself up as God. He or she begins to think that they are able to determine what is right or wrong, solely according to their own viewpoint or their own intellectual perspective. They become judge and jury for everyone around them, as if they were omniscient. They set themselves up as the final arbiters of what should be. This leads, according to the scrolls, away from God to self-worship.

Self-worship, the worship of an abstract concept, and the worship of material self-interest, all have ample illustration in our century. All have proven their power and their enormous destructiveness. One needs only mention the course of direction taken by communism, fascism and the various ardent, parochial forms of nationalism, that have dominated this century, to realize the tremendous damage and monumental pain that is inflicted on humanity, when faith is put somewhere other than in God.

The manifestations that emerge from such an “ idolatry of the heart” are a pattern of arrogance, hatred, vengeance and violence. Idolatry, in this sense is a primary source of evil. When one puts their faith in armed force, or seek security in the possession of land, or place the fate of an entire people in the hands of a political ideology or movement, they are forsaking God. They are yielding to fear. They are assuming that force, be it military, political or economic has the ultimate power to save. How much hatred, violence, bloodshed and death have been perpetrated in the relentless, emotion-laden quest for land? Has it produced security? Has it brought peace? No. Rather, it has brought suffering, misery and genocide.

The truth is that land is not security. Land is not identity. Land is not survival. Land is not home. Land by itself is just space and shelter. Without God’s blessing, it is nothing. The Bible states that if we seek to do the will of God, uphold the covenant and fulfill the Mitzvot, God will bless the land. If we trust in God, he will guide us and protect us.

But, if we go after our own hearts and our own eyes, God will make the land desolate. That is, if we abandon God and seek to do what we want to strictly according to our own drives, lusts and reasons, the land will dry up and become a barren curse. God will abandon us as we have abandoned Him.

Israel is a people. The Land of Israel is a dwelling place. The two should not be confused. We should have our priorities straight. The people of Israel are to be a light unto the nations. We have done that for four thousand years. We have done that with a homeland and we have done that without one. Our primary relationship is to be with God and to fulfill His word. The Torah commands us to respect other people and to uphold the sanctity of life. We must work toward mutual understanding and respect with those around us.

All people are our brethren. Since all people are children of God, made in the divine image, then reaching a level of mutual respect and understanding is central to fulfilling the Mitzvot. The entire law of the Torah makes it crystal clear, that we fulfill our obligation to God, primarily through morality, justice, and service to other people. In the Torah, justice is the cardinal principle of divine law and it makes no distinction between human beings or nations.

God has returned us to Zion. We are secure in the Land of Israel and we are blessed. It is our obligation to place our faith in God, in His Law and in His promise. We must obey the commandments and strive to serve all people through justice, compassion and understanding. To do otherwise is to violate the very core of the Torah and repudiate the Covenant of Sinai. We cannot allow ourselves to yield to fear and place our faith in territorial acquisition. We cannot yield to a messianic furor driven by desperation. We cannot seek to isolate ourselves from the world physically and emotionally by creating a fortress Israel.

This will not bring redemption. It will not bring security. It will not bring peace. It will bring self-destruction and devastation. Should we as a people take such a route, surrendering faith in God for faith in something else other than Him, even if that is the Land and the Messiah, God will not stand by us and He will not stand idly. The Jewish state was destroyed twice before. Once, through the sin of idolatry, once through the sins of ardent messianists who tried to force God’s hand and bring redemption on their terms. Both paths lead to disaster.

It is imperative we heed the lesson now and not bring Israel to ruin once again. We need to learn to serve God through justice and righteousness and to abandon the idolatry of self-interest, fear and doubt. We need to open ourselves up and understand that true faith is connection to God and service to all of humanity. Anything less is a breach of our obligations as Jews. Anything less is not Judaism. It is Idolatry.

Rabbi Fisdel

www.classicalkabbalist.org

The Paradigm of Moses

If a person is to grow and mature spiritually, one must adopt and strengthen certain inner qualities, in order to facilitate that growth. Certain character traits and behavioral patterns are particularly important to the process, since they serve as the foundation for spiritual exploration and expression. The furthering and strengthening of these qualities are very central to the path of self-development. Certain human qualities are, in fact, so pivotal in establishing the groundwork for personal growth, that they deserve special attention and therefore, warrant close examination.

In this regard, it is difficult to overstate the spiritual importance of the quality of modesty. For modesty is humility. Humility is one of the central keys to spiritual growth and personal development. The Torah states, that Moses was one of the most humble human beings, that ever lived. This is neither a random comment nor an arbitrary statement. It is not meant as a simple description of Moses nor even a well-intentioned compliment. It is a summation of who Moses was, and why he was so important. It is in this one short, poignant verse that the character of Moses is fully summed up.

How enormously important those few words are! The Torah could have described the main aspects of Moses character in a number of ways. Moses was a great leader. He was courageous and determined. He faced Pharaoh down. He led the Jews to freedom.

Moses was also a man of great patience. He served as judge and military leader, guiding the people physically and spiritually the forty years of the desert wandering. Moses was a highly spiritual being. He spoke directly to God. It was he, who was chosen to ascend Mount Sinai and receive the Law from the Hand of God.

Yet, the Torah does not describe Moses as a most courageous individual. It does not refer to him as mighty or wise, nor as revered or holy. Though he was in reality all of those things, The Torah chooses to describe Moses, first and foremost, as being exceedingly humble. Why? Because, humility is the very basis for the type of achievements Moses was capable of. Moses never sought to be a spokesman for his people. Rather, he was embarrassed to speak in public.

He did not choose to be a leader, God asked him to assume the mantle of leadership. Moses did not seek to be an intercessor between God and the people. The people, in their fear, requested of him, that he take on that role. It was God, who approached and spoke to Moses. Not the other way around. That is what made Moses, so holy a soul.

He was not ego-centric or driven by a desire for recognition. Rather, he was modest and self effacing by nature. By being humble, Moses was completely open and receptive. Though he did not choose the tasks and assignments he was to undertake, he accepted them freely and fulfilled them completely. He did what needed to be done, because, on one hand, God asked him to and on the other, because the obvious need was there.

Moreover, Moses was able to fulfill all of these varied assignments, because he was open to receiving instructions from God. Being a lawgiver, a judge, an arbiter, a military leader and a prophet, Moses not only had to wear a number of different hats, but also to be well versed in a number of unrelated skills.

For one human being to handle this level of responsibility for a half a century would, normally, be beyond the scope of any human being. The degree of concentration and organization alone, required to carry out these many levels of obligation for even a short period of time is almost impossible to comprehend. To consolidate all his talents, and to coordinate his time and energy, to meet these multiple and varied demands required something other than determination, will power, desire or drive. None of those would have facilitated success at this level. They simply would have burned Moses out and put him in an early grave. Instead, Moses lived to be 120.

Moses’ success was due to his deep and abiding humility. Moses had no sense of his own self-importance. He had no driving ego, no agenda, and no grand view of himself. In his modesty, he felt that he was truly a servant. Moses fled the court of Pharaoh. He escaped the corridors of power, self-aggrandisement and recognition. Moses, instead, chose to live simply and quietly as a shepherd until God, personally, asked him to take on the responsibility of helping to extract the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.

What is interesting is, that by serving God and the people, Moses became master of himself. He came to full fruition as a person, because the focus of his activity in this life was not on himself and his own needs, but rather upon how he could be of service to God and to other people.

To be humble is to be open. It is to have no preconceived expectations about life or about one’s place and importance in the world. Modesty is the willingness to let go of the tendency of ego to seek to rule one’s life. If one allows ego-centrism to define the course of one’s life, one is not available to the higher forces of spirit. Subsequently, one is also not in a position to allow the flow of divine energy to permeate one’s life and one’s life experience.

We cannot hear the voice of God in our lives, if our ego is preventing us from hearing it. It is only through humility, through the simple openness of heart and mind, uncluttered by the false beliefs and unreasonable expectation levels created by egoism, that we enable our inner spirit to come through and take control over our lives. It is through modesty, that the channel is kept open for the flow of divine guidance and blessing.

Humility is not a surrender of self nor of ego. On the contrary, it is an affirmation of the soul, the spiritual core of all of us. Humility is the act of submission to God. It is the acknowledgment that God is the center of our lives, as well as at the core of the life of the universe.

We affirm our connection to God, when we allow our souls and the divine spark within us to take charge of the course of our lives. Both, submission to God and the emergence of our true spiritual nature, as the guiding force of our earthly lives, are accomplished by modesty and humility. When we are truly open, then we view our lives, continually, as blank tablets upon which the soul writes life’s scripts, guided by the Hand of God. That is the paradigm set down by Moses.

Greater than all of his massive accomplishments stands the example of his life, his approach to living. Moses’ way of life is a great key. It is a model we should all strive to attain and to adhere to. Indeed, a great legacy. It is the secret of being real.

Rabbi Fisdel

http://www.classicalkabbalist.org

Coping With Darkness

With the coming of winter, we embrace not only the beginning of a new year, we are also faced with having to work through the season of darkness. During this season, days are still short and the nights are, determinedly long. The ground turns cold and vegetation is in stasis. There is no growth in nature, just extended darkness and cold rains.

There are seasons within our own lives when similar conditions prevail. Unexpected events, sudden change or misfortune, trauma or distress can affect us emotionally the same way. The loss of a job, the departure of a loved one, dashed hopes or broken dreams can send us into our own personal winters. That is part of the cycle of life.

For human beings, winter represents an end point. It represents the termination of an element or phase of our lives. There is a distinct finality to such moments, be it the conclusion of a relationship, be it the death of a loved one or be it the end of a personal era, manifested as a career change or a transition into middle age.

We humans, as sentient beings, have an option that neither the natural world nor the animal kingdom possesses. We have choice. We have the freedom and ability to alter our focus, to change the perspectives we have on our lives and our situation. We can perceive things differently, if we so choose to. An end can be mourned or it can be honored. The past can be pined for as an irretrievable loss or it can be cherished as valued experience. The decision is in our hands, exclusively.

During times of difficulty or pain, we can choose to sink into our own void and let the darkness overcome us. We can surrender to despondency, despair and melancholy. We can yield to anger, recrimination and aggression.

Surrendering to despair comes as a result of inaction. Outbursts of anger and hostility are reaction patterns to pain. Both approaches, one passive and one overt, lead to the same place, to a deepening of the darkness. Both stem from emotional investment in our own limited egos.

Winter, if properly understood, offers us a great opportunity. It is the season of regeneration, the season of rest. Darkness, in its truest sense, is not an absence of light nor is it the negation of light. It is the partner of light. Light is energy, growth and movement. It is joy, desire and achievement.

True darkness is the quietude of rejuvenation. It is the rebuilding process, by which the universe strengthens itself. It is the time, when the hidden forces of nature are busy regrouping. When there is darkness, life force is regaining it’s integrity, so that at the proper season it will reemerge and produce growth and revival.

Understanding this, we should look at the difficult periods of our lives in the exact same vein. When loss or disruption, misfortune or defeat affect our lives, we must embrace it. Such times are, in essence, an opportunity to close down what can no longer be, to relinquish what has already spent it’s energy or that which, simply, has finished running it’s course.

For spiritual, emotional and psychological growth to take place, we need to make room for it to happen. This involves a process of release. We have let go of what we no longer need. We have to relinquish that which we are still carrying within us, which may have been necessary and important at an earlier stage of our lives, but now has become either useless and burdensome to us or worse, detrimental.

This emptying process, though of great importance, produces a sense of loss and with loss comes grief. The aftermath of experiencing either a loss or a release is the process of grieving. It is, truly, necessary to grieve a loss. Grieving is essential to the process of letting go on all levels, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. To grieve is to empty oneself out. By so doing, one leaves the cup empty, so to speak, making room for endless, new possibility.

Once an individual empties out the old psychological constructs and disposes of the accompanying emotional contents, the way is open to internal regeneration and eventually, to the attainment of a new state of consciousness. There is a critical stage of transition between one’s past, completed experience and a new expression of one’s life. It is achieved by passing through the grief.

The stage beyond grief is that of neutrality, rest and peace. Our periods of darkness should be times of release, inner quiet and restoration. True darkness is the season of renewal. As such, we should accept it with open mind and embrace it with a tranquil heart. It is the gateway to spiritual evolution.

Periods of darkness, when understood properly, are the times of post-completion. After we have let go and released what we have finished with, in our life experience, there is a sacred time of peace. There is a period of great quiet when we become whole. During this sacred time, if we are using the darkness properly, we avail ourselves of the opportunity and the need to focus on the hidden resources deep within us. The season of darkness is the time to attune ourselves to the deep wells of spirit within and let the waters, there, be replenished by our connection to God.

The season of darkness is not a time of barrenness. It is not a time of death. The season of darkness is the time of restoration and regeneration. It is dark, not in the sense of the absence of light, but rather, that darkness is the manifestation of the hidden, the secret and the sacred. It is peace.

May God who establishes peace in the highest heavens, grant us the courage to forego what has past, to dwell securely in the quietude within and to embrace its potential for the future. And we say, Amen.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel

The Human Dichotomy: Good and Evil

The reality of Good and Evil expresses itself differently in Judaism, than in other religious traditions. Good and evil is not a strict duality in Jewish belief. Rather, they are seen as coming from the same basic source, God’s Will.

Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, thereby bringing them both into the world, by their actions. The act of assimilating the knowledge of good and evil produced its emergence in the world. In other words, good and evil was a potential that was brought into the world by man’s conscious decision. It was an act of will on mankind’s part. It did not have to be made manifest. In fact, God specifically had told the couple not to do so.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil stood at the heart of the garden of Eden. Therefore, it had a legitimate place within the structure of Creation. However, that was not meant for mankind to assimilate. God says so directly. He prohibits them from eating of the fruit of that tree. The Knowledge of Good and Evil, the full understanding of the polar principles that govern the functioning of the universe, was not meant for human beings to take upon themselves.

Once, having done so, the basic polarity of existence was fundamentally changed, as far as human experience is concerned.  Now, humanity was able to make subjective determinations. Everything would be seen through the focus of positive and negative, good and evil. Yet, much of this viewpoint is purely subjective. What is good for one person, may be evil for another. What is beneficial to one group of people, may be detrimental or devastating to another. What benefits one group, may be doing so at the expense of another.  When we make value judgements, we are overlaying connotations of good or bad on the basic duality of the world.

Everything in Creation is polarized into dualities. Living beings are either male or female. Space is polarized into left and right, forward and backward, up and down. Energy is the dualism of electricity and magnetism. Life takes place by movement within time and space. The basic duality of existence is inescapable.

So, what did Adam and Eve do when they ate of the Tree? They introduced subjective value judgment into the equation. Now, instead of seeing right and left or this and that as neutral and natural, they saw everything as good or bad. This added perception produces great distortion.  If one is looking at two apples, one fresh and one that is rotting, it is not necessarily true to assume that the former one is good and the latter apple is bad.

The rotting apple may fall to the ground and serve as badly needed fertilizer, which is good from nature’s standpoint. Whereas, there may too many apples on the tree, and the ripening one being considered, is draining off much needed resources from the other fruit. This prevents the apples on the tree from coming to full fruition. Hence, the whole crop of apples ultimately, will be ruined.

Goodness and Evil, good and bad are not always appropriate considerations. Much in life is actually neutral or a balanced admixture of positive and negative. Good or bad is merely a function of how something is being viewed.

Very little in nature is either good or bad per se. Rather, something becomes good or bad based upon how it is used. Enormous harm and tremendous evil have been done to countless people and nations over the millennia, in the name of what was thought to be the ultimate good.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil stood in the Garden of Eden to regulate the balance of the opposing forces, that constitute the very makeup of the world. That force of regulation was planted by God. The Tree was meant to serve Creation on a level of its own, beyond the pale of human comprehension and human thought. When Adam and Eve ate of the Tree, they took it upon themselves to decide, what in the world was good and what was evil. The making of such distinctions would inevitably derive strictly from their own narrow frame of reference. This was the sin of mankind. We set ourselves up as the ultimate judges of what is and what is not reality. Moreover, we continue to make such decisions, and we are doing so through the distorted lens of subjective value judgment.

By setting ourselves up as judges, we are preempting God, the true, eternal judge. Our distorted perceptions lead to inappropriate action, causing harm, damage and destruction on many levels. We are bringing evil into the world, through actions precipitated by confusion and misconception.

How do we escape this unending cycle of good and evil, progress and retrogression? The answer is implied in the Book of Job. At the end of the story, at the point where Job admits he cannot fathom evil and suffering, God forces the issue. God demands to know why Job or anyone else, for that matter, thinks they can know the mind and intent of God. The true roots of good and evil lie deep in the very fabric of Creation, in the Will of God. This is far beyond the scope of human comprehension. No human explanation will ever be adequate to even remotely approximate the true reality. Why does man persist in distorting the world and human experience by playing God and making subjective judgments and then casting them in terms of good and evil?
A return to Eden involves the surrender by humanity of this dualistic view of the universe, and the permanent release of judgmentalism. Mankind must move beyond the cycle of good and evil, that has dominated human experience from the beginning. We need to return to the original pattern of experience, symbolized by Eden. Mankind must allow itself to be guided by God directly, rather than by the limited insight of our own reason.

The question then, is how exactly is this achieved?  Before mankind was created, God judged all of Creation to be good. The universe is innately good, according to the Torah. No mention of evil is made at all, in the description of Creation.This suggests, that there is a universal Good that transcends both good and evil as we understand it. There is a transcendent Good that is at the core of all Creation. Good and evil are relative to each other. They are interdependent. Without one, the other ceases to exist. This relative good, that we usually experience then, is only a reflection of the transcendent Good that underlies Creation.

The dichotomy of good and evil that mankind brought into the world interferes with our ability to experience the true Good.  According to the Book of Deuteronomy, good and evil is really a set of choices that we are forced to make continually. Choose life and good or death and evil. Choose to serve God or choose to abandon God. Do not assume that understanding what God wants from us is hidden away somewhere or far beyond our reach. That is not the case. God’s Will is very near to us. It is within our hearts and souls.

This is what the Torah teaches us.  To reach the Good, we must pass through the dichotomy of good and evil. We must first strive for the good, listen to our hearts, study the Torah and work to serve God. We must remain firm in our convictions and resist the temptations of ego and misplaced emotion that lead to sin and destructive behavior. By working through the good and resisting the inclination to do evil, we move in the direction of connecting with the transcendent Good, the light of holiness and joy, that is beyond good and evil as we understand it.

The Transcendent Good stands alone. It is eternal. It is the underlying force in all Creation. This is the goodness, light and love that will one day rule all life on earth, when evil has passed away and the Kingdom of God is finally established. May our lives reflect that coming reality. May our daily existence be filled with a striving for the good, so that we each lay down a small part of the foundation of God’s everlasting kingdom, little by little, in our everyday life. If we do this, we become one with God and God’s Will.

Rabbi Fisdel

www.classicalkabbalist.org