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Synchrony — Excerpts

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Lesson One

…It is quite interesting that the Hebrew term, olam, means both world (i.e. the totality of space) as well as eternity (the totality of time.) Thus built into the Jewish conception of reality is the identity and indivisibility of space and time…This same word, olam, also means hidden. Creation (i.e. the realm of time and space) becomes the place in which HaShem concealed his Infinite Light and Presence…HaShem concealed his countenance to create the space for worlds, and we, in turn devote ourselves to re-illuminating and revealing our hidden G-d. It is through Torah and mitzvot which, as explained in previous lessons, draw down light and elevate sparks, that we accomplish this “illumination”…

Lesson Two

…How can one be commanded to feel trust and conviction? Either one is inspired to confidence, or one is not…Yet contrary to popular usage, faith in Judaism is not speculative. Rather it describes an actual state of contact with the truth in question… The highest level of soul is hewn from the very “stuff” of G-d. Every person knows there is a G-d, and knows about His oneness because deep inside his soul he is in contact with this truth. He is this truth…When the Torah commands us to believe in G-d and His oneness, it is obligating us to penetrate to the depths of our soul, to grasp the bedrock truth of our existence, to discover who we really are…

Lesson Three

…The lower level of love is an affection aroused by the beauty and wonder of G-d’s creation…It is called a lower love because it is aroused by the externality of G-d, by His affects in the world, as opposed to His essence… When a person responds to the beauty of G-d’s creation, he is (as it were) appreciating G-d’s external appearance… The next state of love (which is the third level in our hierarchy of relationship with G-d) is a love inspired by an appreciation of the soul of G-d, which is a devotion aroused by the study of His Torah… The sages teach that the Torah reveals to us the inner depths of the mind of G-d…

Lesson Four

…The Torah commands us, as two of its six constant mitzvot, to love and fear G-d…How can we acquire the necessary command of our emotions to arouse them and sustain them at will? This precisely, is the power of meditation. A successful meditation is one which arouses the heart. In Kabbalah, binah (understanding) is called “the mother” because her power of reflection gives birth to the emotions of love and fear which are called her children…Thus the Rabbis advise one who seeks love of G-d to reflect upon the wonders of nature and to study Torah. Yet this reflection and Torah study must be deep and contemplative. In other words it must become a meditation. The rabbis explain that one who penetrates into the workings of creation, or the depths of an idea, story, or commandment in Torah, will naturally and automatically be aroused to love of G-d…

Lesson Five

…This counterbalancing of both love and fear in relation to G-d is crucial for several reasons. Personal transformation is hard work. The force of habit and the desire for comfort oppose one’s efforts with a fury, for self improvement works against their interests by always demanding change and sacrifice. Love can only go so far. If not integrated with “fear,” one will reach a point where there is no impetus to push through the more serious blocks and resistances. When a person knows that he is loved unconditionally, whether he strives or indulges, whether he evolves or falls, and that the Shekhina will be infinitely patient with all his meanderings, then why push it! Without the incentive of fear (whether it be of karmic consequences or estrangement from one’s Beloved) a person’s efforts toward self improvement will not be able to push through places of high resistance…

Lesson Six

…Both the animal soul and Divine Soul aspire toward unity but in proportion to their own capabilities and world views. The Divine soul seeks to dissolve itself in the Infinite Light of G-d. Its self-ness is a frustrating barrier between itself and its Beloved, like trying to pick up a penny with wool mittens. The animal soul, on the contrary, can’t really see beyond the shadow of its own outline, and so its definition of oneness is likewise limited. Therefore it strives for unity through physics and the unified field theory, telecommunications, universalism, sexuality, etc. All things which unify the physical pole of reality but preserve a level of individuality and, by necessity, a degree of separation from G-d. This last “leap” into complete union is only possible to the extent that these endeavors are explicitly subsumed within a larger context of Torah and mitzvot

Lesson Eight

…This is the state of mind that prevails after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The perspective of True and False collapsed into that of Good and Evil. These last two constant mitzvot aim to rectify all this, to heal and repair the level of mind called daat, knowledge, by directing it back to Truth. But what is Truth? Where is it to be found in this world? How do we recognize it? How do we know when we’ve got it? As post-Edenic creatures living in a post-Edenic world, our “taste buds” are not reliable in this regard. Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They took its fruit into themselves, and its impurities were absorbed by every cell in their systems. Since they contained the collective souls of all humanity, we inherit the effects of their deed. This means that our capacity to discern True and False is limited. If left to our own resources, it would be like trying to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We cannot go beyond ourselves, for we cannot escape the clouding influences of self-interest and ulterior motive…

Lesson Nine

…When the Torah forbids us from accepting opinions that are contrary to the truths and principles of Torah, it is really forbidding us from giving up our struggle to reconcile discrepancies. It is saying that it is impossible for something to be both true and contrary to Torah’s truths. We are not required to suppress our questions, to deny that apparent contradiction exists, or to dismiss conflicting evidence without a hearing. Rather, this mitzvah forbids us from even considering the possibility that resolution cannot be found, and requires us to insist upon reconciling all experience, knowledge, and information with Torah. Not out of desperation, but because we know that peace can be found. Because the struggle is an end in itself. Because it is the only means of bringing Torah into the depths of our lives. And because it becomes our personal contribution to the unfolding tapestry of the Oral Tradition that is woven from the insights of every Jewish soul…

Lesson Ten

. . .This act of catching oneself in negative thoughts and shifting attention to something positive is, at least from one perspective, a very small and simple thing. It happens in less than an instant, takes no physical exertion, and entails no material expense. And yet it is an actual mitzvah and carries all the benefits of that. For as explained in The Enlightened Body, a mitzvah is an act that has intrinsic power to go beyond itself and bring Divine light, healing, and fixing both into the person and into the world. These lights and rectifications of soul that happen through mitzvah performance are eternal acquisitions. They are the only possessions that stay with us throughout all the various chapters of our soul’s journey, both in this world and the next…

Lesson Eleven

…”To believe in G-d’s Oneness” is to know that all of creation, from the beginning of time until its end, is nothing but Divinity in a state of contraction and concealment. This means that G-d is present and sharing (as it were) every moment with us–both its joys and its pains. If G-d is one, then He cannot be a detached and indifferent observer, but must also be participating in the full mystery of life. Thus the most practical implication of “G-d’s oneness” is the knowledge of Divine presence and empathy…

Synchrony -- Final Questions

1. How can anthropomorphism serve a useful role in one’s relationship with the Eternal?

2. What does Judaism use as a basic working definition of G-d (acknowledging, at the same time, that G-d is essentially beyond definition altogether)?

3. According to Torah, what is a human being’s purpose in this world?

4. Describe some of the more fundamental differences between prayer and those practices that primarily employ the tenets of magic?

5. How does the Eternal One communicate Divine will and vision to creation in order to direct it toward its perfection?

6. How does the word chashmal contain a formula for prayer?

7. What is the value of acknowledging a power greater than oneself that created and continues to sustain, and relate to the universe? What qualities must one cultivate to develop this relationship?

8. What is the mitzvah of prayer?

9. What is the Law of Affinity and how does it apply to prayer?

10. What does it mean that G-d “needs” or “desires” the prayers of human beings?

11. What are the three elements of prayer and what purpose does each serve?

12. What is the most essential ingredient of prayer?

13. How does one decide whether he or she should be praying for specific or general things?

14. Under what conditions is visualization an acceptable tool of prayer? Why can self-visualization be damaging? How can one circumvent these difficulties?

15. What advantages does prayer have as a tool for personal growth and self actualization?

16. “Growth is life’s imperative.” What are the various ways that this comes about?

17. What is the concept of “running and returning”? How should we incorporate it into our prayer?