New Year’s Message from Reb Zalman
THE CONDITION OF OUR LIVES AT THIS TIME is the condition of someone who is severely ill. The world, our planet, from the perspective of air and water quality, is suffering both from emphysema and blood poisoning. A fever is rising in terms of Global Warming. The way that we are dealing with one another has become an irritating rash on the body of the planet. And the reason we have begun campaigning for new leadership in this country so early is because we are searching for healing, for a shift in this situation.
The coming year, 5768 on the Jewish calendar, is due to be a difficult one. It is here that we need to be able to call on several dimensions of assistance and help. First, from God—to take hold of God’s goodwill for us, to recognize that there are some needs that cannot be fulfilled on the physical plane, and to look for the way in which we can handle our emotional needs by leading with kindness, goodness, smiles and warmth, and a gentle touch. Likewise, we have a need for greater awareness and deeper insight, learning how to see things from different points of view, intuiting guidance from the Source and the Center of all truth. These needs cannot all be met on the physical plane, so we must learn to recognize that, and to act on it as part of what we need to do in this season of the New Year.
The issue of kindness is paramount at this time. Back when we lived in friendly neighborhoods and in houses with front-porches that we sat upon, when neighbors and people in the street actually knew one another, if someone fell through the cracks in the social system, there was always somebody around to see it and who was willing to help them out. So, instead of demanding that people refrain from begging in the streets, we should see what we can do to help the homeless. Look at the disparity between what we are spending on the war and destruction and what we are spending on health, education, and welfare today; it is so fantastically great—isn’t this a lack of kindness? So this is why we need to bring about some changes in our lives, and the most important of these is an increase of kindness—beginning with oneself, with the members of one’s family, and one’s immediate surroundings—unblocking the flow of energy and goods (without this being a profit making situation) to the places in our social body that really need it. If our neighbor needs something, we should be able to offer that to them naturally, and then receive back from them just as naturally. In this way, the social fibers will be strengthened and the body of the planet will be healed in the coming year.
Let us not forget Reb Nachman of Bratzlav’s wonderful story about the king and his minister and the contaminated grain. Both knowing that all the grain would be contaminated and everybody would lose their minds in the coming year, they said to each other, “Let us make signs on our foreheads so that we remember that the world has gone mad, and that we are not in the normal situation.” And, I think, like the king and the minister, we too need to make signs and place them on our hearts this year, to remember that we are not in a normal situation, and extra kindness and extra caring for the planet and for people is really necessary right now.
Many blessings to you, I pray that you may receive from the divine goodwill that which is intended for you for the coming year. And the best way in which you can receive this is to open your heart and give space to that which flows from God instead of that which is part of the domain of the ego. Amen.
* A special message from Reb Zalman given on September 11th, 2007
Because it is before the High Holy Days I want to write about Binyan Hamalkhut.
The rabbi of Kotzk once said in a response to the question of where God dwells: “God dwells wherever we let Him in.” God is where The Divine invests itself in the world. The way in which we speak of divine immanence results in God being more hidden in the within of the within. Alan Watts used to point out that God is on the inside and his students asked him to show them. They brought an apple and cut it in half to look for God on the inside of the apple but God wasn't visible. Watts pointed out that they now had two more outsides. They brought him a paper bag and they looked inside and asked where is God? And he pointed out to them that they could only see the outside of the inside but not the inside of the inside. There are many layers that prevent us from descending to the inside of the inside. This is because our mind is the result of the inside of the inside being inside of us, so therefore even to go to the edge of our minds and our awareness we are still only in the outside of the inside.
Each one of our holy days has a particular task to perform to help us in our inner growth and to be recalibrated in order to be in harmony with the Divine intention in life.
Yom Kippur is a recalibration of one's entire system because it touches the place from which everything is energized, i.e. Keter. Rosh Hashanah in its two days is a recalibration of our Chochmah and Binah. In other words, we are dealing with how we are conceptualizing and valuing things in the world (Chochmah) as part of the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The work of the second day of Rosh Hashanah is the way we understand what Chochmah has manifested and we now bring it into detailed understanding and caring about it.
This is the general teaching relating to Rosh Hashanah, the Head Of The Year. If we return to the Kotzker’s quote that God dwells where God is let in, there is the question why should God care to be let in? Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi points to this issue as follows. Our sages tell us “Nit’avveh Haqadosh Baruch Hu lihyot lo dirah batachtonim” of God's passion to reside with those lowly ones (meaning, us human beings). When asked why is it that the infinite should have such a passion, such a desire to dwell with us, he answered. “Oyf a Ta’avah fregt men key kashyes nit”: there is no way in which you can ask questions of reason about a passion. In other words he is saying that why this passion exists within the Divine is way beyond our understanding.
What did not get opened for our inspection is that the attraction that the finite has for God is manifested in the way in which we create a space that aches and clamors for the sacred Presence to occupy it. This space is made of longing and involves the reduction of ego. Our ego takes up so much of our inner space that even if we want to make space for God it seems as if we have to consult to get to our ego's permission.
This, of course, is not the way it can or needs to be. On the contrary, recognizing that the ego is a good manager but not a good boss, we have to ask who is the boss behind the ego in all the systems. We speak of it as a Self. This self has that longing, and inherent in it is the reduction of space for itself to make room for the Beloved. Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav speaks about this mutuality of the longing, of the individuals in prayer and the reciprocal longing from God. Filling the worshiper with love in response to that longing is due to the fact that the person who prays best is the one who is charming to God; the one who prays with Cheyn. To explore this in a meditative flash: how do I need to adorn myself so that my expectation of how God wants me to look to be most engaging and entrancing to Him, so that the infinite’s passion will flow in to me.
We learn from the writings of Rabbi Isaac Luria that the work of the High Holy Days is Binyan Hamalkhut. Let me unpack the meaning of that and the ways in which we might experience it. It means that some of my life space is taken away from the ego and put at the disposal of God. Binyan Hamalkhut also has in itself the notion of healing the Shechinah. The God field of the last year -- this is how we understand Shechinah -- was the appropriation of energy to the cosmos and was fully expended. It gets renewed each year on Rosh Hashanah. The appropriation for this planet, its creatures and peoples is what we pray for on Rosh Hashanah. Through Yom Kippur into Succoth we continue the process of building the God field for the coming year. The understanding is that this God field; the permeable membrane between the infinite and finite can, as a result of our attracting negative karma, become injured and by the end of the year become worn out and useless and needs to be replaced.
Another way in which this was discussed in the literature was that the God field is also what we call the Name of God - Hashem. It is that which issues from the infinite and is not identical with the Godhead. But the name is connected with the presentation and the forms in which the infinite comes to us. Sometimes I use another image: that of the root metaphor and the notion of covenant. We are always dealing with the mutuality at which the two parties of the covenant pledge to give to each other what they covenant about. When people say where is God? I wish I knew God! My response is the question, “Who are you in relation to God?”
The liturgy is going to make it very clear: "God you are our king and we are your subjects, you are God and we are your devotees, you are our parent and we are your children". In this way there is always something that arises out of the root metaphor that implies mutualities and in some ways also obligations. On Rosh Hashanah we want to create clarity for ourselves with what root metaphor we will serve God for the coming year. And this would be the God field, the name that is being established by us through Yom Kippur, through Sukot and Simchat Torah to be aegis, the overarching matrix of our life for the coming year. If this relationship rooted is in the root metaphor, into that we can place our Cheyn, our charm, our Grace, to attract the Divine other into mutuality with us.
All of Israel, all God wrestlers, all of us who will be spending that prayer time during the high holy days will be able to constitute the morphic God field for our entire people and for the whole world for which we will be praying. It is important that in this God field for the coming year we should be able to be harmonious and inclusive to all branches of Judaism and beyond. All the prayers are being said in the name of all humankind. We as a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, should pray for that integration that will make room for everyone and at the same time obligate them to be stewards of God's kingdom on earth. (How strange it is to see how in every religion those notions of each beings particular task is to garden the world, to know it as rooted, not in our possession but in God's possession.)
Theology used to be allied with philosophy and with history and with traditions. There has been a shift, because of the questions of the nature of God and the recognition that for the sake of our hearts we need to have a root metaphor that keeps us in the necessary dualism of love or in the love it of king and subject of parent and child. We have also freed the word God from being locked in to the image of the old man with a white beard, floating in the sky. So then what else can we say about God? And here is where the cosmologists beginning with Einstein had pointed to the awesome mysteries of Being, to the substratum of our experienced worlds, to the energy system that runs through it all the mutualities involved in the biosphere. This is different from the past. The liturgy of the high holy days is largely based on the notion of the King of kings of Kings.
It was a way to say that God is larger than the greatest emperor. In that age that has passed people saw themselves as subject to the kings of Kings. God is greater than that. Allah hu Akbar.
In this view the power of life and death is in the hands of God. The momentous scene of the Divine Court was put into our prayer book, with angels are writing, with God decreeing who shall live, who shall die, who shall have plenty, just as a king will do from his royal throne. The regressive mythic language of the Machzor, the high holiday prayerbook, points to that. All of this is in the age of Aries and comes from there and was also transferred to the age of Pisces where to this day we are dealing with words like superpower, supreme commander, commander in chief etc.
However, once we enter into the age of Pisces man we began to look at God as the great Creator, our Maker, Designer. How interesting that we at Homo Faber returned to God the complement of Maker, Fabricator. In much of the language employed in the Hebrew prayerbook and the Bible, God is seen as a Yotzer, the one who shapes clay, clay being the plastic of the ancient world. So it was seen that the same way as the soul fills the body, God fills the universe. It was a small universe then, still with earth in the center and the various heavens surrounding us with their spheres. And from here to the highest spheres there was a certain hierarchy, that still maintains that the creature owes its life to the Creator and therefore at best surrenders to God's will. The social and political arrangement of those days still today involves an empire, commander in chief etc. So too are the social arrangements of corporations with their CEOs and boards. The hierarchy this time is not measured in terms of aristocracy as it is measured in terms of wealth and power.
So we have not yet come into the organismic model by which we would best understand the process of life on the planet. As long as there is a disparity so vast between the heads of corporations and the blue-collar workers and maintenance people, for them it is clear that we have not yet gotten into the kind of equitable harmony that an organismic point of view would want..
In the organismic point of view we realize that everything goes in cycles. The holistic view by which we understand life at this time is not a homogenized monism. In the organism there are many interactions going on among the mitochondria, the organelles, that nervous system and the metabolism in the flow of blood and the exchange of oxygen in the lungs, all of which are in a reciprocal relationship pledged to promote the life in harmony for the being.
In our mystical tradition there is a description of the ritual of "crowning the King". We stimulate the will inherent in the infinite One to become our king. A king does not rule over animals, nor over his children and blood relatives. In order to truly be king, subjects have to subject themselves to the king’s rule and must take on the Yoke Of The Divine Kingdom. This is what the liturgy of the High Holy Days is about. "And in this way we will give You the crown of the kingdom"
In the past we would pray that God should inscribe us in the Book Of Life as a kind favor to us. "Our father, our King, be kind and compassionate to us and answer us, for we have no good deeds that would make us deserve your kindness." True enough, as in every liturgy and ritual we step out off the “regular, secular, practical and empirical” life of our present awareness and we go into a regression to a more mythical, archetypal time. And so it is. Steadily, will still be chanting the same melodies and add new ones and keep the words all of the Monarchial hierarchy as part of our prayers. It is also extremely important to recognize that this language does not contain the action directives that we need to understand what it is that we are to be doing. The more we will become aware of the process of becoming attractive to the infinite, of creating the God field, and creating loving harmony with one another, of becoming stewards of the earth, healers of the environment and society, the more will our prayer work and produce the goods results we pray for.
In the old theology everything depended on God. I like to characterize that as a relationship of the direct current from the infinite Creator to creatures. However, once I look at the way in which life operates in curves and reciprocities, I begin to see that a better metaphor for the relationship between us and the infinite is the alternating current, that is to say, we vibrate back and forth. In the language of the Bible “v’hachayot ratzu vashov” which translates as the angelic beings, “chayot” are to and fro -- can also be read as “and life is reciprocal, rhythmic, cyclical and alternating”. Heart beat and pulse, systole and diastole, sympathetic and parasympathetic as well as the many residents and interactions from organelles to eco-systems all of this is an alternating current. (While direct current needs to have two wires in which the positive flows in one direction and the negative in the other, in alternating current one wire is enough, provided the other side of the grounded.) The grounded-ness in the life of the planet is the litmus test for traditions and religions at this point. In the past that was disdain and aversion to the physical; from Gnosticism, Hinduism to Judaism, Christianity and Islam there was a mode of the flesh hating asceticism. How different is this today with our seeing the physical and honoring it as a way in which the Divine immanence makes itself present to us on the outside and the inside.
So we are dealing with the sound of the Shofar that we need to hear deeply. There is the hollowness of the shofar which is necessary for the horn and the breath to produce the sound. One of the symbols of the hollowness is that we need to have that open, empty, in order to attract the Divine to dwell within us.
The liturgical process is underneath and behind the ritual and to which we for archetypal reasons enter into archaic regions, but we have to be aware of the task of recalibrating our deep life program to create the God field by making our contributions to Binyan Hamalkhut.