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Posts Tagged ‘fifty’

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret; actually, a great secret. But not quite yet.

It’s an abbreviated week. This evening the holiday of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, begins. I’m on my way to celebrate and teach. Because of other obligations, I haven’t had time to prepare something for you yet this week. The remainder of today, tomorrow and Saturday will be taken up with festivities. So, this week what I give you is a promise.

Tonight, we commemorate the receiving of the Torah (Hebrew Bible) and the Ten Commandments. If you think you know what that means, what the Torah is, I urge you to think again. For the past four years, I have been pursuing an answer, aiming to solve a riddle. Nachmanides, the great scholar, philosopher and kabbalist, in his extraordinary commentary on the Torah, points to what he called one of its greatest secrets. According to him, this is a secret that Moses himself, who we traditionally say wrote the entire Torah, did not know.

I have spent the past few years struggling to comprehend what Nachmanides was driving at. I can’t say that I fully understand what he wrote, but I have gained a deeper feeling for it. The commitment I make to you is, by sometime next Friday, June 5th (b’h), I will begin the process of unpacking this secret. I will endeavor to share, to the best of my abilities, some of the truths Nachmanides was pointing towards. I make no promise that it will change your life; I only promise to speak my truth about it.

Until then, may the light of revelation shine upon you.

Peaceful Sabbath,

Jonathan

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All week long I’ve been planning to write about something else—Adam and the fiftieth. But now I want to talk about paradox.

Paradox—two seemingly opposite, apparently mutually exclusive phenomena being true simultaneously. Or something like that.

For a while now, one of my takes on the story of Adam and Eve is that in the Garden they lived in a pre-paradoxical state. They saw only their oneness, their unity. They were merged with the divine and with one another. They saw no other, no multiplicity.

After eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve entered a state of paradox. Suddenly, they could see otherness, separateness. Reconciling this manyness with the unity they could now only remember became the source of great confusion. Living in a world of reason, they could no longer see how two could possibly equal one. It didn’t made sense, and still doesn’t, for these two seemingly opposite, apparently mutually exclusive possibilities to be true simultaneously.

The objective—of spiritual practice, of Torah, of humanity—can partly be characterized as a shift into a post-paradoxical state—where we see two, yet know one, and hold these two truths simultaneously and without conflict.

Why am I writing about this now? It’s Thursday evening, actually really early Friday morning. I’ve just been outside doing my practice, dialoguing about my day with, for lack of any truly appropriate terminology, God. I’ve had a long, challenging day. There were several stories percolating in my mind about situations with other people. This hasn’t been the case recently. Mostly, I’ve just been in a place of blessed union (not ultimate union, but still blessed). Going into the dialogue this evening I felt confused, agitated, concerned. After clearing away the cobwebs of identification with my stories, I came back to the recognition that everything coming my way is for my own good, that literally everything that comes towards me is a gift, beckoning me to awaken. I return feeling present, connected and blessed.

It struck me how one set of phenomena can lead to two such disparate results. On the one hand, I can get completely trapped in my stories about events, their impact and consequences. This, evidence seems to indicate, is the general state for most of us. On the other hand, knowing the stories fully, moving through them, understanding my relationship to them in the deepest sense, the same events can help lead me to clarity, truth and greater peace.

The great kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal, said that in Egypt (where we just were 15 days ago) the nation of Israel had reached the 49th level of degradation. According to this view, had we remained slaves for even one more instant, we would have fallen to the 50th and suffered complete spiritual death as a nation. As we know, we turned things around, 180, and reached instead the 50th level of purity at Mount Sinai. One circumstance, two opposite directions.

This challenge, and opportunity, is the paradoxical universe we face still today. As we move through this time of year, counting the fifty days of our journey from Passover—physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual slavery—to the ultimate freedom of our encounter with the divine, I pray that we can find the strength, as a species, to not turn from the great challenges we face, but to confront them head on. I pray that we come, all of us, to fully grasp the pain of a world plagued by violence, hunger and ecological destruction, and that we move through these crises to see them as terrible gifts, urging us ever more intently to awaken to our true nature—many-faceted beings who, to survive and blossom, must come to comprehend and embody our fundamental and astonishing oneness.

Peaceful Sabbath,

Jonathan

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