Plagues by Land…Plagues by Sea

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plaguesPesach 2014 / 5774
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

Rabbi Yosi the Gallilean said: The Egyptians were struck by ten plagues in Egypt, and fifty plagues at the sea…
Rabbi Eliezer said
: …In Egypt they were struck by forty plagues, and at the sea by two hundred plagues. 
  
Rabbi Akiva said:
 …In Egypt they were struck by fifty plagues, and at the sea by two hundred and fifty plagues.

This is the most obscure passage in the Hagada. The rabbis culled our vast body of teachings and created a script for families to recite year after year to recall our story, bolster our faith, bind us as a people, and transmit our precious tradition to the next generation. But what did they expect us to learn from this esoteric debate that seems divorced from reality.

There are two issues. The first is figuring out what these plagues actually were that struck the Egyptians at the sea. The ten plagues in Egypt were so noteworthy that the Torah spends reams of precious words extolling them. Now the rabbis inform us that those plagues were trivial compared to the barrage at the sea. Yet the Torah does not mention this second assault at all. Not a word. The second issue is the numerics. All three rabbis agree that the plagues at the sea were five times worse than the ones by land. Their debate concerns how many plagues there were in total—50, 200, or 250. What is the significance of these numbers?

I’m going to explore the first question at length and address the second more briefly.

The ten plagues began in the month of Tamuz. Each plague lasted a month—one week of warning, three weeks of plague (or vice versa, by other opinions). [1] After the third plague (by Rosh HaShana) the Egyptians were so debilitated that their enslavement of the Israelites terminated. [2] Each subsequent plague broke them still more. By the end they were on the verge of total collapse. [3] As the archetype of evil in those days, if Egypt went, evil would cease, free choice would collapse and the purpose of creation would be lost. Contrary to popular belief, the critical timing of our exodus (its hasty execution called chipazon) was actually to salvage evil. [4] HaShem backed off at the last minute, so that a remnant of evil could survive, recover and (seemingly) even prosper. Creation requires its contribution though it is our job to seek its demise. (That last statement is paradoxical but not contradictory). [5]

And the tenth plague, the death of the firstborns, was so devastating to the Egyptians that their cry that night (reports the Torah) was more agonizing than any other cry that ever was or will be. [6]

Conversely, at the sea, Pharoah’s army comprised 600 chariots (carrying, say, two or three soldiers each). [7] The total number of Egyptians that drowned there was (at most) 1,800. Not to minimize the value of a single life, or the heartbreak of those who mourn them, but that loss does not approach the devastation wrought by the ten plagues (especially the death of the firstborns). Besides, they were soldiers and that is the way (and the risk) of war. It is a natural (if dreaded) loss.

So on what basis do the rabbis claim that the plagues at the sea were five-fold more severe than the previous (famous) ten. Where is their evidence for this contention?

Some bring midrashim that whatever could go wrong for the pursuing Egyptians did go wrong. The pillar of cloud that led the Israelites by day, produced darkness for them and caused the ground under their feet to be soft as clay. The pillar of fire by night singed them and melted the wheels of their chariots. Their horses got stuck in the mud, the soldiers fell off, and could not remount so when the waters returned they could not escape. Some died quickly, some slowly, depending upon their state of demerit. These adversities hardly compare to the drama and devastation of the previous ten plagues (neither quantitatively nor qualitatively).

Perhaps the key lies in the difference between physical travail and ego death. The former is awful, incapacitating and sometimes even tragic. The latter (as used here) is a tsunami of shame and self-revulsion that drowns out all trace of self-worth. These two ordeals are not mutually exclusive…in fact they often overlap: Physical travail often produces shame; ego-death often leaves illness and devastation in its wake. Yet a distinction can be made. Physical travail, may turn a life upside down, it may ravage quality of life but (in and of itself) it does not touch core (except indirectly, via the ego death that it sometimes triggers). Conversely ego death does cut to the core which makes it the greater trauma (at least qualitatively).

People have various susceptibilities to ego death. Some people melt down into rage, envy, shame and humiliation by the slightest snub. Others endure public insults and tribulations without losing their dignity or integrity.

There is evidence to associate physical travail with the original plagues and to ascribe ego death to the events by the sea. The Hagada informs us that the extraction of the Israelites from the midst of their Egyptian hosts via the Ten Plagues was executed by the Blessed Holy One and His Shekhina.

HaShem brought us out – not through an angel, not through a seraph and not through a messenger. It was the Blessed Holy One alone, in His glory…
[He brought us out] with great fear (ובמורא גדול) – this is the revelation of the Shekhina. [8]

The Blessed Holy One and His Shekhina associate with the final two letters of HaShem’s name (the vav and the hei). They mediate the lower aspects of Divine providence, the hashgakha of reward and punishment where justice rules and every action always brings consequences (for good or bad as the case may be). If this were the only providence we would rise and fall eternally. In one lifetime we’d fix some things but damage others. In the next life we’d repair those but slip in something else. And so it would go, up and down, round and round for eternity.

In this lower providence that revolves around cause and effect everything is possible. If at first you don’t succeed, then practice harder, improve your deeds. If you lose the battle, you can still win the war. Pharoah had a stiff neck. [9] He believed that if he found the right magicians, bargained hard, or just refused to budge, that he could lick Moshe’s god. He had never encountered an adversary that he could not dominate. Pharoah interpreted the plagues as a physical travail. There were moments when he started to crack but he always recovered and never let the plagues undermine his abiding sense of personal power. Only at the very end with the horrendous plague of the firstborns did Pharoah admit defeat. But even then, as soon as the Israelites doubled back, and there was reason to suspect that their mighty G-d had met His match, Pharoah pursued, believing that victory was still within his grasp.

Conversely, the level of Divine providence that parted the sea was Atika, associated with the highest tip of the first letter of HaShem’s name (the yud). This Higher Providence called (Mazal Elyon) holds a vision of the purpose of creation and ensures that every moment, without exception, brings us closer to it. Mazal Elyon includes all the things that are fated in our lives (both individually and collectively). The Zohar tells us that at the water’s edge, Atika shone for all to see. [10] At that point Pharoah’s soul must have realized that all was lost…for eternity. That these Israelites and their G-d were going to change the universe. That their worldview of ethical monotheism was going to rule. That he and his people had no choice but to assimilate into their mission (and on their terms). That he was a humble servant of the Holy One, just like everyone else. That his whole life—all that he accomplished with his stiff neck and ego strength—would count as a debit in the Holy One’s chronicles. Now that is a massive ego death.

And it actually accomplished what the ten plagues could not. The midrash says that Pharoah was subsequently appointed king of Nineva by the angel Gabriel. When Jonah preached fire and brimstone upon that metropolis for its grave sins, Pharoah got the whole community to repent, and managed to reverse the decree. [11] Pharoah did his teshuva.

This next section, analyzing the number of plagues, is addressed to those familiar with the vocabulary of the Ari. The material is not unpacked, for time is short and Pesach draws near. It is possible to skip this discussion and go to the last two paragraphs—a summary and final blessing.

The question underlying the rabbis’ debate about the number of plagues is how deep did the lessons at the seashore sink in. A king like Pharoah is a hub-soul with spokes connecting to every one of his subjects. Whatever happens to a king affects his entire people. And then, on top of that, Pharaoh and Egypt are archetypes. They represent the ego layer of our universe-encompassing Adam. Whatever changes they go through affect the entire course of human history. Israel, too, is an archetype and represents this Adam’s neshama layer as it comes of age and contests the ego’s repressive regime. The neshama’s goal is not to liquidate the ego but to subdue it, enlighten it, and eventually incorporate its valued perspective into the steering committee. [12]

The whole point of the plagues was to burn into the ego’s nerve net the experiential knowing that crime doesn’t pay—that resisting spiritual law always hurts more than it gains. The more deeply the lesson absorbs at this archetypal level, the easier it becomes for subsequent generations to get that message as it gets transmitted through the providence of their individual lives.

Just as light is comprised of small packets of energy called quanta, so is this true for consciousness, teaches the Ari. Its quantum units are called nekudot. And these nekudot evolve into sefirot and eventually into partzufim. They are kabbbalistic milestones in the evolution of consciousness.

Nekudot = dark knots of unactualized potential that are the debris of shevirat hakaylim. These dense slivers of dark light gradually rise to the “surface” and incarnate as a creature, object or moment of our world. At that point they they unfurl into sefirot.
Sefira = the irreducible unit of ten nekudot arranged along three pillars also called the Tree of Life. This is the basic atom of our holographic world where every piece contains aspects of other piece within it. Every sefira always contains ten interincluded sefirot (or nekudot), which also each contain ten, ad infinitum. Each sefira is a single attribute of personality.
Partzuf = these ten sefirot unpack, elaborate and reorganize into five partzufim (of ten sefirot each). A partzuf is an archetypal personage that mirrors the psychic complexities of a human being (more than a sefira is able to do). These five partzufim comprise a family system where each plays a different role (grandparent, father, mother, son, daughter). They also (often) function as different voices or sub personalities within a single individual.

An accompanying diagram illustrates this following table.
——–
PLAGUES BY LAND

R. Yossi
10 plagues in Egypt = a single sefira with its ten-interincluded sefirot. The most rudimentary unit of consciousness.
R. Eliezer
40 plagues in Egypt = these ten sefirot unpacking, elaborating and reorganizing into a partzuf (with its interincluded parzufim, but only the lower four. The crown does not unfurl.
R. Akiva
50 plagues in Egypt = these ten sefirot unpacking, elaborating and reorganizing into a single partzuf with its five interincluded parzufim, including the crown. Core is touched on the level of partzuf.
PLAGUES BY SEA

 

R. Yossi
50 plagues at the Sea = these ten sefirot unpacking, elaborating and reorganizing into a single partzuf with its five interincluded parzufim, including the crown.
R. Eliezer
200 plagues at the Sea = this single partzuf unpacking, elaborating and reorganizing into a full system of partzufim, except not including the crown. The core (on the level of partzufim) is not touched.
R. Akiva
250 plagues at the Sea = this partzuf unpacking, elaborating and reorganizing into a full system of partzufim, including the crown, or highest partzuf call Arikh Anpin. The core is touched on all layers.

SUMMARY

R. Yossi: The land plagues only affected the outer, malchut attribute, of Pharoah and the people. Their impact was completely behavioral, there was no inner correction.
The sea plagues went deeper but still only on the level of action. Instead of a simple mechanical effect, the pleasure buds of the animal soul did start to align more with spiritual law.
R. Eliezer: The land plagues sunk into the nukba layer but did not produce a real shifting of will.
The sea plagues impacted nearly the totality of Pharoah, but since the higher will was not touched, its effects were coercive more than transformative.
R. Akiva: The land plagues produced an effective conditioning on the level of action that also engaged the animal soul’s pleasure buds.
 The sea plagues engaged the entirety of Pharoah’s soul—all five partzufim including his crown (and by extension, his will), suggesting that Pharoah really was brought to teshuva, for real.

How deep did the lessons of the plagues absorb into the nerve net of the Egyptians and bring tikun there? The higher the number the more deeply the plague penetrated into the body, mind and soul of Pharoah. Rebbe Akiva believes they touched core, R. Yossi is more cynical and considers their impact to have been superficial.

Let it be that at our holy sedar, when the lights of Higher Providence stream down, that the Pharoahs of the world—both inside us and without—should, like their ancient forebear, also see the light. May they take it in, and take it to heart, that the Almighty is an unstoppable force that will free the world from all tyrannies. Then and there, may they admit defeat, lay down arms and reorient toward truth. May the transformation wrought by this turning remove all stops and bring Mashiach, NOW.

——————-

[1] Ex. Rabba 9:12.
[2] Mishnat R. Eliezer 89; Leshem HDOH 2:5:2:5.
[3] Leshem HDOH 2:5:2:5.
[4] Leshem HDOH 2:5:2:5.Before the plagues began, the Israelites were on a very low spiritual level and falling. We were in danger of crossing the point of no return—of drowning in the 50th gate of impurity. And so HaShem quickly deputized Moshe at the burning bush, and began the redemption. The timing was urgent to our survival. But that critical moment was before the plagues began. Once the redemption began we actually grew stronger with each plague (which was a blight to them and a healing for us), and by the end, the roles reversed, and it was the Egyptians who were about to self-destruct.
[5] One of the purposes of evil is for us to learn from our encounters with it, and to discover that it is a hype, and to choose good freely instead.
[6] Ex. 11:6. Apparently even the holocaust and the like. Which is strange. But it is possible that because the Jewish soul is plugged into eternity at its root, and draws a comfort from that, so even in our tragedies, there is deep inside a tempering of the pain because the soul understands the purposefulness of things.
[7] Ex. 14:7.
[8] Passover Hagada.
[9] The Hebrew letters that spell Pharoah, פרעה, reararranged spell “back of the neck,” עורף, with the implication of stiff-neck.
[10] Zohar 2:18b, 47a.
[11] Yalkut Shemoni Ex. 176.
[12] Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, chapt. 43 teaches that Pharaoh escaped death at the Red Sea and made his way to Nineveh where he became king and taught the people about the one G-d. When Yona the prophet conveyed HaShem’s intention to punish his people for their corruption, Pharaoh (as king of Nineveh) commanded his subjects to don sackcloth and repent.

 

 

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Remember Amalek…Don’t Forget

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purim.haman.2PurimBurst 2014
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

(1) Remember[1]….(2) to blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens[2]….(3) Do not forget![2]

     Who is this Amalek that three of our 613 mitzvot revolve around him? And how do we “remember to eliminate the memory of something while also never forgetting it?” Isn’t that self-contradictory?

The Torah accords Amalek the mysterious distinction as “First of the nations…” [ראשית גוים עמלק...][4]. The midrash explains that this is because Amalek was the first tribe to assault the Israelites in their journey to Sinai.[5] The wonders that accompanied Israel’s exodus from Egypt proved God’s love for them, yet Amalek was undeterred. Without a trace of compunction, its soldiers attacked straight away.[6] Amalek’s distinction as “first” to assault Israel (God’s chosen ones) attests to its rotten core. In the Torah’s lexicon of symbols Amalek becomes the token of pure evil. Continue Reading…

A Tribute to Wheat for Tu B’Shvat

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Sarah Yehudit Schneider

wheat

It is customary to eat fruits and drink wine in celebration of Tu B’Shvat, the Rosh HaShana of fruit trees. And it is fitting to admire each fruit and speak its praises before you eat it. In that spirit A Still Small Voice presents a tribute to wheat. 

Wheat has a special status in the Jewish tradition. As the staff of life, it is the most important food. A person could live on bread and water for an extended period of time. The thanksgiving prayer recited after partaking of a meal where bread is served is a special, elaborate blessing distinct from others.

  The Talmud teaches that wheat was actually a tree in the Garden of Eden, with tasty cakes growing straight from its bough. When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, reality shattered and transformed completely. Wheat, which was the loftiest tree in Eden, became one of the lowliest plants in our fallen world. That which was highest fell lowest. It now takes enormous effort, and many sequential labors, to turn wheat from tough kernels into edible loaves, pale imitations of those that grew straight from the vine in Eden.

A child first acquires the awareness that enables speech when it begins to ingest wheat. Kabballa explains that this is because the numerical value of the Hebrew word for wheat (חטה) is 22, the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. This Kabbalistic fact connects wheat to the sefira of wisdom for it is there that the capacity for conscious awareness first appears. Not only do letters enable speech, they are also required for thought. These rarified letters that glimmer in the mind as the source of our creative insights are the spiritual root of wheat. 

Continue Reading…

Chanukka and the Feminine

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chanukkah.2013.thumbnailby Sarah Yehudit Schneider

In Jewish symbology, the masculine archetype conflates with the sun and the feminine with the moon. Based on this equation the Ari maps out a seven-stage sequence from waning to waxing—from diminishment to fullness of stature—that is the secret (and the prototype) of the archetypal feminine. Our messianic goal, says the Ari, is for he and she “to become completelyequal.”[1] These teachings apply on every scale, from the inner feminine inside us all, to woman in relation to man, and to the Shekhina (Divine immanence) in relation to HaShem (Divine transcendene).

     We’ll define the feminine polarity (or Shekhina) as that aspect of the universe that is engaged in hishtalmut (dynamic perfecting) as opposed to the masculine which holds the pole of shelaymut (unwavering perfection).[2] We and all of creation are feminine in relation to HaShem.  We are that aspect of Divinity undergoing hishtalmut, for Divine Perfection, by definition, can lack nothing, even (paradoxically) the experience of perfecting.

Like the gears of a clock where the small wheels rotate once per second, while others take a minute, an hour, a day or even year to chanukka 2013.gearsrevolve. So it goes for the feminine on the inner plane, says the Ari.  There are daily cycles, monthly, yearly and even multi-millennial ones, for the entire course of human history is but a single revolution of the cosmic moon.

And each cycle leaves its residue of tikun. Although, the moon wanes again after she has waxed, each ascent to fullness leaves a permanent trace of growth.  Consequently, in the next descent, her “low point” will not be as low as it was before because of the light she absorbed in the last round. Continue Reading…

Paradox #11 — The Quagmire of Moral Relativism

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How do I become a patron of paradox without compromising my moral convictions? That is the question explored in this new video called, “The Quagmire of Moral Relativism.”

Paradox Video Teaching #10

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This video teaching, called Varieties of Paradox, is a summary of the different types of paradox that we encounter in the world. People expressed confusion because we have introduced so many different kinds of paradox and each one calls for a different response and they felt a bit overwhelmed by the unruliness of the subject. This video provides a framework that organizes the complexity and makes it more manageable.

Sweetening the Dinim

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rosh.hashana.2013Rosh HaShanna 2013/5774 

Sarah Yehudit Schneider

 Our Rosh Hashana avoda—its soul-searching, lengthy prayers, and special mitzvot—is all directed toward one mysterious aim called “sweetening the dinim”, a holy endeavor that serves both man and G‑d alike. The obvious question is what are these dinim and how do you go about sweetening them and why is it so important at this time of year?

The simplistic answer is that dinim are harsh judgments—punitive decrees from on high—that we are hoping to avert through our Rosh HaShana beseeching. There is truth to that perspective for it fits the facts and motivates the exertions appropriate for these awe-filled times. Yet, because its anthropomorphisms have not been cracked, it conceals the ineffable instead of conjuring it and that creates problems even bigger than the one it solved.[1]

Kabbala defines this term differently: Dinim (says kabbala) are the dark knots of unactualized potential that comprise the lion’s share of our soul. They contain (in potential) both our magnificence and our fatal flaws fused into compact slivers of compressed light strewn throughout our psyche and, actually, throughout the world. They are also called sparks, gevurot, dark lights and black fire.

Our mission (and our destiny) is to unpack these dinim—to extract their resources and use them for good. This is what it means to sweeten dinim. Our Rosh Hashana practices employ several methods for accelerating this task which always comes round to “infusing the dinim with consciousness,” i.e. bringing awareness into areas of our life that were previously unconscious (and reactive). Continue Reading…

Paradox #9 — Hashmal Jig 3/3

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This illustrated video teaching, called The Hashmal Jig 3/3, is the ninth installment in our series on Paradox.  It examines the second step of our Hashmal Jig—the need to make a choice despite our ambivalence—and the tools available to help us do so.

Master of Prayer — Tisha b’Av, 5773 / 2013

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“Everything that the Merciful One does is good.”[1] That means everything, without exception. Our job is to find that good…and proclaim it. From this perspective complaints with providence expose the chinks in our faith. If we don’t get what we want, then we just need to reprogram ourselves to want what we get. It’s all good, be happy.

But if that were the only truth, then what’s the point of our three long weeks of mourning and semi-depression between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. Our obligation, at this time is to diminish simcha. (משנכנס אב ממעטין בשמחה).[2] The Talmud lists certain behaviors that people naturally do when they are depressed and it requires us to emulate them at this time. The point is to awaken a melancholia inside our souls—a genuine sadness for the great sins and tragic calamities of Jewish history that cluster around this time.

Scientists note that when a person makes a happy face, even when it’s completely fake, his body starts to produce the physiological symptoms of joy. And similarly, when a person frowns their physiology changes in ways that indicate sadness.[3]

And that is the point (and the obligation) of these three weeks…to behave in ways that express sadness—focusing on the losses, lacks and calamities of Jewish history in order to reduce our simcha (a state of mind we try to cultivate at every other time of the year). Continue Reading…

Paradox 8–Hashmal Jig 2/3

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This video teaching, called The Hashmal Jig 2/3, is the eighth installment in our series on Paradox. It develops the kabbalistic secret of Hashmal—the energy of consciousness generated from dancing between the poles of a paradox.

Paradox 7 — The Hashmal Jig

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This video teaching, called The Hashmal Jig 1/3, is the seventh installment in our series on Paradox. It introduces the kabbalistic secret of Hashmal—the energy of consciousness generated from dancing between the poles of a paradox.

Dewdrops of Light–Shavuot 5773 / 2013

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 When HaShem revealed the Torah at Sinai, the Israelites died at every word. Their souls flew from their bodies and Hashem revived them with the dew that He will use to resurrect the dead. [MR Ex. 29:4; TB 88b]

 From where does the dew of resurrection descend? From the head of God, as it says (SHS 5:2), “For My head is drenched with dew, My locks with the damp of night” [YS SHS 988]

 This is the Torah when a man dies in a tent…” (Num. 19:14)1 Resh Lakish derives from this verse that the Torah’s words will only endure when those who have learned them will also die for them. [TB Shabbat 83b]

  “Your dew is droplets of light…” (Isaiah 26:19)  From this we learn that one who engages with the light of Torah [and dies for it], the luminous dew of the Torah will resurrect him/her. [TB Ketuvot 111b; TZ Tikun 19]

 Truth be told, we are born pleasure seekers. HaShem endowed our souls with an innate drive to avoid pain and pursue pleasure. This legacy (called the pleasure principle) is a mixed bag—it is our greatest stumbling block and the force that drives us toward redemption. Our appetite for pleasure will not cease until it’s satiated, and that will not occur until the messianic golden age. Continue Reading…

PoleHolders — Illustrated Video Teaching on Paradox #6

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This illustrated video teaching, called Poleholders, is the sixth installment in our series on Paradox.  It uses the polarity of Truth and Faith to model a way of grappling with paradox that alters consciousness and expands ones capacity to hold complex truths. It demonstrates how to extract the energy locked inside a paradox and channel it toward growth and change.

Tsafun—Afikoman

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Pesach 5773 / 2013
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

The 12th step in our seder is called Tsafun—meaning hidden or secret. It follows the festive meal and marks the time for “dessert” which, at the seder, means our last portion of matzah, called the Afikoman. Really, the dessert should be the Paschal lamb—the sacrificial centerpiece of our evening’s ritual, but without the Temple there is no way to truly sanctify the lamb’s slaughter so we substitute matzah instead.

In the original Passover (in Egypt) we needed to start eating the lamb by midnight and to finish by dawn.[1] The rabbis subsequently added a fence. They ruled that from Temple times onward a korban Pesach must be finished by midnight. There are a range of opinions about whether we should also eat our Afikoman by then. Some say yes, and some rule that other factors take precedence. All agree that at the very least, the first portion of matzah and maror (stage 8 & 9 of the seder) should be completed by midnight.

Nevertheless, at whatever point you do eat your Afikoman (whether before, during, or after midnight) that moment becomes for you “like midnight”[2] ( כַּחֲצֹת הַלַּיְלָה), for you are reenacting the first korban Pesach eaten in Egypt around 3325 years ago.

The drama of that event is nearly impossible to convey. Huge upheavals ripped through the cosmos on both its inner and outer planes. Forces converged to produce a paradigm shift that brought heaven down to earth with all the sweetness and anguish that entails. Below are three perspectives on that event which can serve as kavvanot for eating the Afikoman.

1 – Pshat. The Torah paints the scene as follows: The Israelites divided into groups that gathered in a single home and shared the same Paschal lamb. As evening approached they slaughtered their lambs and (as per instruction) smeared its blood on their doorposts and lintels, an ominous sight that lent an air of foreboding to their preparations. They roasted the entire lamb in one piece (stripped of its skin) arranged in a fetal position רֹאשׁוֹ עַל-כְּרָעָיו וְעַל-קִרְבּוֹ )3 All this despite the Egyptians’ worship of the lamb as one of their gods.

At dusk each group gathered in the home where it would eat its korbon. Once the sun set, no one was permitted to exit that space until daybreak under threat of death.[4] They began their seuda, saving the Paschal lamb for dessert. The blood on the lintel dampened the atmosphere. And then, at midnight, while eating their korban Pesach, chaos erupted outside their blood-stained doorways. Screams and cries filled the streets. Every Egyptian household bewailed its dead. The Torah does not exaggerate when it states that there never was and never will be a cry of anguish that compares to this.[5] All the while the Israelites stayed locked in their homes, hearing the shrieks, gazing upon their bloodied doorways, eating their korban Pesach, the god of Egypt.[6] Continue Reading…

PurimBurst 2013 / 5773

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DIALOGUE WITH DESTINY
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

Said Haman to Achashverosh: “Let these [Jewish] people be destroyed…” The King removed his signet ring, gave it to Haman and replied: “Do with them as you see fit.” …A decree went out to destroy, slay and exterminate all Jews, young and old, women and children on a single day, the 13th of Adar and to plunder their possessions…[1]

Shortly after Hamen’s demise (in the month of Sivan), Esther begged the King to annul Haman’s genocidal plot that was still scheduled to occur in seven months time.

Achashverosh replied: “An edict which is written in the King’s name and sealed with the royal signet may never be revoked.”…[2]

The rabbis note that the book of Esther begins with a codeword that signals hard times ahead.  The verb, ויהי (and it was), seems innocent enough, but in Hebrew its first two letters spell vay (meaning oy, or woe). R. Berekhia wonders: How could it be that already, there, in the first word, tragedy lurks.

And he actually concludes that, really, it’s always that way, for destiny is a real force in the universe. It seems that from the beginning of time HaShem decreed the fate of each soul and the mark it would leave on the world.

…From the first instant of creation HaShem assigned a fitting destiny to each and every person [that would walk the earth]…He appointed Cain to be the model of all slayers and Abel the prototype of those slain. He made Noah the first of those saved from disaster and Abraham the first to be circumcised [by Divine command]…He put Nebuchadnezzar at the head of all ravagers.  And, [most relevant to our matter at hand,] He made Achashverosh the prototype of sellers and Haman, the prototype of buyers.[3] When the people saw that these last two souls were here, now, and set to go they cried, “vay vay (oy oy).” Esther and Mordecai wrote the Megilla and opened it with this word to convey that mystery.[4]

This commentary introducing the Midrash on Esther presents free will and determinism as the central theme of our Purim tale.[5]   The story revolves around a genocidal decree signed by “the king,” a double entendre that (in the Megilla) also always indicates the King of Kings (KoK)—the Prime Mover and Shaker of history. And the Megilla informs us that a pronouncement from the king (read KoK) can never be revoked. Once issued it MUST be executed. Yet in this instance, despite the irrevocability of Divine decree, the proclamation does not, in the end, materialize; there was no genocide. Clearly there is a contrary force—hidden and formidable—that can oppose HaShem’s decrees and prevail. Yet this rival power could not possibly succeed unless it too had God on its side. Continue Reading…

Illustrated Video Teaching #5 — The Kabbala of I-Centers

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This illustrated video teaching is the fifth installment in our series on Paradox.  It explores the mystical underpinnings of  I-Centers and how they interact to produce a whole greater than the sum of its parts. This 7 min. video ends with practical instructions about how to work with I-Centers that we find disagreeable.

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A Tribute to Wine for Tu B’Shvavt 2013 / 5773

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It is customary to eat fruits and drink wine in celebration of TuB’Shvat, the Rosh HaShana of fruit trees. And it is fitting to admire each fruit and speak its praises before you eat it. In that spirit I present a tribute to wine.

Of the five fruits indigenous to Israel only grapes can be processed in such a way that their “status” increases.  When eaten off the vine the blessing we say is the same as for all fruits. But when turned into wine (or grape juice), an exclusive blessing gets said that applies only to it.

This is because wine is more than a beverage—it is psycho-active substance and, in fact, the archetype of them all. The path that grapes traverse in their odyssey of becoming wine parallels our cosmic journey of expanding consciousness.

Continue Reading…

Paradox 4: Introducing I-Centers

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This Illustrated Video Teaching introduces the concept of I-centers—an extremely useful tool for sorting through the complexities of paradox. It is always good to build an idea from the ground up. In the next teaching (Part 5 or our series) we will examine the mystical origins of this concept as well as its practical applications.

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Paradox — A Hanukkah Dilemma

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Hanukkah teaches us how to survive exile and how to accomplish the purpose of it.  And that brings us the paradox of “isolation and integration” as you shall see.

 

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Chanukah, 2012 / 5773

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Inspired by R. Tsadok HaKohen, Resisei Laila, 56 and 57 
Sarah Yehudit Schneider
Artist Yoram Raanan - Menorah

Hillel says to start with one candle and add another each day until, at the end, there’s eight…Shammai says to start with eight and remove one each day until, at the end, we’re left with one….[TB Shabbat 21b]1

Now, we rule like Hillel, but in the messianic days-to-come we will rule like Shammai [Mikdash HaMelek, Parshat Bereshit 17b; R. Tsadok HaKohen, Chanukah 8] 

“The era of revealed miracles ends with Purim. ‘But what about Chanukha?’”2 [TB Yoma 29a]. R. Tsadok explains that the essential miracle of Chanukha, the miracle of lights, was not visible to the world. No one saw it but us, and you had to be an insider to appreciate the significance of it.  And really, what kind of miracle was it? We could have lit the menorah with contaminated oil, or delayed the kindling for a week until we produced a new batch. What practical difference did it make? The essence of the miracle was the quiet affirmation of relationship between HaShem and His beloved people packaged in a form that only we would appreciate.

Continue Reading…

Paradox 3: The Cosmic Roots of Paradox

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“The Cosmic Roots of Paradox” is the third in a series of video presentations that explore Paradox as a Kabbalistic Path of Expanding Consciousness.” It explains why a deepening relationship with the Holy One requires one to grapple with ever more challenging dilemmas. Know, says kabbala, that each new paradox is a portal to higher consciousness.  (It is best to watch this video in full-screen.) To view other videos in this series, visit our Media page.

 

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The Mission: Part 2 of our Illustrated Video Series on Paradox

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“The Mission” is the second in our illustrated video series called “Paradox: A Kabbalistic Path of Expanding Consciousness.” These video teachings provide insights and practical instruction on how to approach paradox in a way that enhances quality of life, promotes peace, deepens prayer and expands awareness. The entire series will include twelve clips.  To view the earlier video in this series, please visit our Videos page (under the media tab).

We recommend viewing the video in full-screen mode by clicking the box (made from arrows) at the bottom right of the screen when the video begins. The logo will disappear when you move your cursor off the screen. If you are having trouble viewing this video, you can download it here.

Rosh HaShana, 5773 / 2012

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 Yom HaZikharon, our Holiday of Remembrance

אמר רבה, אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: אמרו לפני בראש השנה מלכיות זכרונות ושופרות. מלכיות ־ כדי שתמליכוני עליכם, זכרונות ־ כדי שיבא לפני זכרוניכם לטובה, ובמה ־ בשופר.

HaShem declares: …Recite before Me the verses of kingship to make Me your king…. Recite before me the verses of remembrance, that your remembrance shall arise before Me for good.  And through what? Through the shofar. (RH 34b)

Our universe began as a thought in the mind of God—a vision, of the glorious possibilities (nay, inevitabilities) of creation and of every creature in it. 1 There we began (as a vision) and there we will end (as an indelible memory trace). 2 In the meantime our physical plane serves as a kind of engraving pen that etches the memory of each moment into the very fiber of our being.

      Yet that sketch of memory-traces is fluid. It evolves as our relationship to our own story changes with time.  That is the nature of life and the power of teshuva: it corrects our perspective on the past, which alters our reactions to the present, which produces a different future than what would otherwise have naturally occurred.

Continue Reading…

TISHA B’AV 5772 / 2012

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Based on R. Tsadok HaKohen Pri Tsadik, Devarim 16 and Resisei Laila, 48 (וביום שני…) Sarah Yehudit Schneider

Any person who acquires daat, it is as if he built the Temple in his days. (Brochot 33a)

The world came into being when God took a certain [sapphire] stone, which is called the “Foundation Stone”, and cast it into the abyss, and upon that stone God founded the world. It is the center point of the universe and upon it stands the Holy of Holies…This stone has on it seven eyes, as Zechariah prophesied, “On one stone seven eyes”… [And Ezekiel describes this sapphire stone] “as the likeness a throne…full of eyes all around.” (Zohar 1:231a) Continue Reading…

Shavuot 5772 / 2012 (Inspired by Meor v’Shemesh)

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Jacob’s ladder reaches up through the worlds to the inwardness of G-d called the Infinite Light. The point of our religion (with its 613 commands) is to bring us up those rungs to meet HaShem there face to face, core to core. That is what our First Commandment asks of us, to behold the simple oneness that Hashem refers to when He says, “I am….”2,3

It’s a multi-millennial journey with milestones along the way. Meor v’Shemesh divides the path into three stages based on the Torah’s account of the revelation at Sinai. The sequence is: 1) hearing the truth, 2) seeing the Light, and finally 3) beyond mind and sensory experience, just being with the One. His teaching has practical implications for us today. Continue Reading…