Thoughts on Rabbi Aryeh Hirshfeld
Aryeh Hirschfield took me on a great journey to Israel in 1991. He became my partner/haver in the exploring my hypothesis that Shema was an encoded meditation instruction, directing our attention to the silent Oneness of Alef. We danced and sang together, chanted shema in holy venues, and tested the hypothesis in orthodox yeshivot and with Kabbalah scholars in Svat. So, in life, Reb Aryeh co-authored my article on Shema and The Mother Letters of Abraham, soon to be featured in Tiferet, Journal of Spirituality, with cover art by David Friedman (http://www.kosmic-kabbalah.com/pages/cards_envelopes_primary_shapes.htm ). This article has been privately circulated for over 18 years in different forms. I remained connected with Reb Aryeh following our journey, attended his wedding, and visited him in Ashland following my own honeymoon drive up the California coast. He inspired me to bring Jewish Renewal activities to Marin county, and together we contributed to the evolution of the Neshamah Minyan within Marin’s Conservative Congregation Kol Shofar. Reb Aryeh is missed, but will never be forgotten. My friend and mentor will live on in his teachings, and by the works of my hands and my heart.
Here is an excerpt from the Shema and The Mother Letters of Abraham article; email , for a copy of the full article:
“The lowest part of the soul interfaces with the physical body. It is on this level of Nefesh that a person gains awareness of the body as a receptacle for the spiritual. This is only possible, however, when one is able to isolate himself from the constant stream of internal and external stimuli that occupy his thoughts. Awareness of the spiritual thus necessarily begins by quieting down the awareness of the physical." Aryeh Kaplan Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan encourages us to examine Jewish meditation in its most universal dimensions when he states, "Looking at the entire field of meditation from a historical viewpoint, we find that the closer one gets to the present, the less dangerous and more universal the methods become.” In Jewish meditation, Kaplan suggests that the Shema may be an encoded meditation instruction. He elaborated upon the mystery of Shema as being in the name Shem. The Mother Letters are explored more deeply in Sefer Yetzirah. If we translate the phrase, "Listen, Yisrael, to God’s Oneness" or "to your Oneness with God," where would this lead? To/for what might we be inclined to listen? …….And what might we expect to hear? Shin/Mem are gateways into the Silent Oneness of Alef.
Most vocal sounds wake us up in one way or another. Two sounds call us to quiet down. Shhh, don’t tell anyone yet. They create the energetic context from which other sounds derive their power. The sounds of The Mother Letters, Shin and Mem, contain universal messages that quiet our minds and evoke listening. Shushing gets attention in many languages. It calls upon the stream of thoughts to cease. Humming uses only the single letter that we pronounce without opening our mouths. It implies, "I am listening." It is the only sound we make that doesn’t interrupt someone else’s train of thought.
“Neshama” means soul. The name contains the sounds of Shema. Neshama also means breath, the awareness of which is universal among meditation practices. (We say in Psalm 150, “Every soul (breath) praises God’s Name.”) There is also something special about the sounds of Shema that beckons us to pay attention more deeply. They are also the sounds of Shalom and Hashem, and of So’Ham. It is said that the mystery of Shema is in the name Shem. Shem refers also to our name, even the very concept of identity, beingness and presence. Hashem is The Beingness. We have many identities, and we are One Being. Shalem is “healing, complete or whole.” “Hashamayim” (heaven) contains fire (ayish,) water (mayim,) and shema.
In all these powerful names, the sounds of ShinMem on our breath move us from the distinctions of ordinary thinking into Chochmah (Wisdom) or undifferentiated consciousness, and prepare us to go beyond into the stillness that unifies all. Meditating with the rhythmic interplay between Shin and Mem elicits awareness of Alef.