Seek the Light

B”H

“Towards the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light.”

  • Numbers 8:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The “seven lamps” shall cast their light towards the face of the menorah. Seven lamps, towards the face (p’nei). Commentary explains that the six lamps, three on either side of the center lamp, had their wicks tilted towards the center lamp. Yet, this begs the question, if the verse mentions that all seven lamps shall cast their light towards the p’nei (face) of the menorah, then the Hebrew word, p’nei must represent something other than the center lamp, since it is only one of the seven. Therefore, what does the Hebrew word p’nei represent in this verse?

An answer may be given by focusing on another verse from Kitvei Kodesh (Holy Scripture), wherein a clue may be found. “In Thy behalf my heart hath said: ‘Seek ye My face’; Thy face, L-RD, will I seek” (Psalms 27:8, JPS 1917 Tanach). Consequently, the verse about the menorah could be rendered as having the light of the seven lamps glowing towards the “face of G-d.” And, what may be learned by this understanding? The light of the lamps can be seen as symbolic of our avodas (service) towards H’Shem, seven days a week. All our efforts in avodas are to culminate in seeking the face of G-d.

parashas Beha’alosecha 5780

Reflections: A Balancing Act

B”H

When our environs do not bring us peace and contentment, what is the proper course of action? Where is the remedy to be found? I believe that within the midst of our nisyanos (troubles), G-d must be sought out for solace; otherwise, our peace of mind would be relative – dependent upon ever changing circumstances. What other resource is as potent as the Omnipotent?

There is a maxim, expressed in various forms, that happiness is to be found within ourselves. Yet, I prefer to reframe this adage, “true contentment is found within our connection to G-d.” This becomes more apparent, considering the overall inability of anyone to remain completely stable, having a disposition of equanimity towards all things, in every situation.

At least, I can certainly speak for myself, inasmuch that it is not within my own power to be the cool, calm, and collected kind of person that I once used to be. Hence, I seek out G-d in every moment, in order to connect with His higher wisdom. I also seek out lesser means, such as good music to comfort the soul, journaling to express my emotions and inner feelings about this, that, and the other in life; and, additionally, I make sure to exercise, in order to work out the stress that manifests in my body.

My own personal discontent with certain circumstances in my life, may only be a reflection of my spiritual impoverishment. Perhaps, in the past, before my religious, aka, “spiritual journey” began, I may have been more content with worldly endeavors and creature comforts. Yet, as is demonstrated by Moshe’s own personal encounter with G-d, as well as other scriptural narratives, the way to ruchnius (spirituality) is opposed to gashmius (materiality), despite any attempt to reconcile the two; otherwise, the endeavor is compromised, and the soul remains in stasis, along with the status quo.

Case in point, if there is a constant struggle between the yetzer hara (literally, evil inclination) and the yetzer tov (good inclination), each inclined towards its corresponding realm of preference, then the soul is subject to one or the other at any given moment; those who are unaware of this battle, nor the presence of these two inclinations, are at a disadvantage, as dominance is given to the yetzer hara by default, otherwise known as the “animal soul.”

Chassidism teaches that there needs to be a balance between the “godly soul,” and the “animal soul;” yet, this seems like a compromise to me; besides, I have never been able to find that balance. Rather, I am compelled to make a sharper delineation between the two, than is often mentioned in certain chassidic sources.

The balance to be found is then relegated to the peace of mind that results, by staying focused on H’Shem; also, to look towards Olam Haba (the World to Come), instead of becoming entangled in Olam HaZeh (This World), to the extent that we can not see the forest for the trees.

Heritage – 4

B”H

Photo by Abhilash Mishra from Pexels

When the Revelation occurred at Mt. Sinai, B’nei Yisrael were cautioned against drawing too close to the mountain. When H’Shem was present at Sinai, amidst the thunder and lightning, the status of the mountain was akin to a level of kedushah (holiness), whereby the people were compelled to keep a distance. Afterwards, when the long shofar (trumpet) blasts were sounded, the verbal barricade was lifted. Apparently, there was no inherent holiness present within the structure of Mount Sinai in and of itself. Only when H’Shem’s presence rested on the mountain, in the visible form of the spectacular firework display that surrounded His presence, were the people forbidden to draw near.

Religion itself, may seem barren to us at times, like the landscape of Sinai, when its truths are put upon a pedestal, repeated as dogma without explanation, and upheld without inquiry. Their initial appeal may encompass our attention for a while; yet, their significance may become diminished, unless explored, enhanced, and reviewed. The Talmud mentions that when a soul appears, at the time of Judgment, it is asked, whether it examined the truths of wisdom by asking questions, subsequently, gaining a practical understanding, capable of being applied to one’s life (Shabbos 31a).

According to Abraham Heschel, the ultimate questions that religion claims to answer must be recovered (Heschel, G-d in Search of Man, ch. 1). The answers provided to us, that we claim to uphold, when professing a traditional religious belief, may become disconnected from our lives, like a balloon that becomes untethered from the string in one’s hand, floating aloft in the sky, unless we can articulate the relevance of the truths that are gleaned from religion. This is essential, in regard to walking on the derech (path) of our ancestors, albeit, in a postmodern world.

The wisdom of Heschel’s insight points towards the need to make religion relevant in our lives, even in the present moment. Otherwise, there continues to be a disconnect, wherein the truths of belief and practice are not integrated into the actuality of our lives. If we lose sight of the existential significance of our religious tenets, then religion may lose its immediacy. The burden is placed upon mankind to re-establish a connection to G-d. To make truth relevant again, by asking meaningful questions about life, then, searching our religious perspective for the answers.

“But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.”

– Deuteronomy 30:14, JPS 1917 Tanach

daily reflection: Comfort Zone

B”H

March 3, 2020

Everyone wants to believe what they want to believe; and, nobody wants to believe anything unseemly. Anything that would cause a person’s views to shift, this way or that way, away from one’s comfort zone is avoided. As if there is a “do not enter” sign placed before them, when an incongruous idea is presented.

I appear to be no different in that respect, whereas I hold onto the traditional values of my religious belief and practice. Yet, others, would not tread upon this territory, even though, similarities in thinking may prevail over differences. Somewhere, there is still room for conversation.

daily reflection: Groundwork

B”H

March 1, 2020

Below the ground, a structure is rooted in the earth, whereby its stability is secured. The same is true with a more common, natural example, trees, whose roots provide nourishment as well as a secure attachment to the ground. In both cases, what we do not readily see, is the groundwork.

By analogy, the truths of a religious belief and practice are not visible to the eye that does not attempt to see more than what is on the surface. To perceive the underpinnings of belief and practice, the mind must inquire into the groundwork; otherwise, only a superficial understanding is gained.

Dependency on a religious structure, without personal inquiry, study, and observance will not suffice for an understanding that goes beyond the superficial. Only by delving into the details, by connecting to G-d on a daily basis, and inquiring into His ways, can a person be completely, nourished by the roots of religion.

Inner Calling

B”H February 9, 2020 “How long, O L-RD, wilt Thou forget me for ever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?” Psalm 13:2, JPS 1917 Tanach The concept of hester panim (G-d’s hiding his face) from man, speaks of the need to find Him within the circumstances of our lives, despite His apparent […]

Inner Calling — Clear Horizons

Ennui Revisited

B”H

I think that ennui may manifest as boredom; while, on the other hand, ennui may have to do with the lack of a cohesive and complete sense of existential meaning in an individual’s life. Therefore, boredom could be understood as one particular sign or indicator of a lack of all-encompassing existential meaning in life. Otherwise, would’nt life be captivating every moment in time?

Also, I would contend that the avoidance of so-called boredom by way of a preoccupation with activity, in and of itself may be an attempt to distract oneself from the problem, unless that activity is meaningful. So, ennui could be hidden, seemingly so, behind the perpetual need to occupy one’s time with distractions. 

My daily religious routine brings a distinct sense of meaning and value to my life. I would emphasize how it is exactly the value of connecting to G-d that permits me to transcend the type of ennui that may mask itself as boredom.

Yet, there is an inherent risk in constant religious activity, if this is done without kavannah (intention). In like manner that a lack of patience – an inability to rest in the moment – may lead to pre-occupying oneself with various distractions, so too, can religious practices be done in a way that does not consist of true nourishment to the soul. The resultant circumstance is that religious practices, like secular distractions may unfortunately take on the status of busy activity, if not performed in a sincere manner from the heart.

In the religious realm, it is ultimately quietude that provides for a reflective state of mind to connect with G-d. In Judaism, this is called deveykus – clinging to G-d; yet, a rote practice, without focusing on meaning, erodes the significance of deveykus. Moreover, a hurried and distracted mind will not contribute to a sense of kavannah (intention).

Even so, a religious routine contains the potential to calm and focus the fettered soul; that is religion’s advantage, akin to meditation in the Eastern tradition. Incidentally, Judaism has its own brand of meditation as well as the more common element of prayer, inasmuch that meditation in the Jewish tradition often precedes prayer, by placing the adherent in a state of mind more conducive to prayer.

In summary, the ennui that manifests as boredom, or lurks behind the compulsion to stay active in order to escape the existential truth of one’s life, will dissolve over time as a meaningful focus on G-d transcends any discontent in our lives.