Celebrating the Spiritual Levels of Torah

Torah is a teaching that continues to unfold, guiding us to appreciate the text more fully
as our awareness evolves.

Torah Portion for week of October 13 - 19, 2019:

(Exodus 33:1 - 34:26)

and ´╗┐ V'zot HaB'rachah

(Deuteronomy 33:1 - 34:12)

For Sukkot: God is not a separate being

This is the week of Sukkot, the festival of in-gathering, our major harvest festival each fall. Because it follows the Holy Days, Sukkot celebrates our individual and communal spiritual harvest as well. We have the opportunity to appreciate more fully what we have shared through the Ten Days of Teshuvah. The special Torah reading for a Shabbat that falls within a holiday week reflects the essential nature of that holiday. The reading for Sukkot is taken from the parashah of Ki Tissa and relates the drama in which Moses receives the second set of tablets on Mount Sinai. It includes specific reference to the "Feast of In-gathering at the turn of the year" (Ex. 34:22).

This is the second time Moses ascended Mount Sinai for 40 days, since he smashed the first set of tablets when confronting the Golden Calf incident, and he is ready for his own spiritual harvest. He seeks further confirmation of his role as leader and wants assurance that God will be there for the people in the future (Ex. 33:14). More than that, Moses yearns to see God's Presence more directly than ever before:

He said, "Please let me behold Your Presence!" (Ex. 33:18)

The response Moses hears is clear:

And He answered, "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim in your presence the Name of the Eternal, and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show. But, you cannot see My Face, for a person may not see My Face and live." (Ex. 33:19 - 20)

The passage is rich with spiritual insight. Moses, like many of us, wishes to "know" the Divine in ways that are not possible while living in a separate body with a separate center of consciousness. Moses can see "the goodness" of God, he can feel the "grace" and the "compassion" of God. But he cannot "see" God as one might see any other separate being, for God is not a separate being. That which we call God is Being Itself, and as a part of that Being it is not possible to directly know the whole without giving up one's separateness.

The Final Torah Portion of the Year: Remembering the Universal

V'zot ha-brachah means "and this is the blessing." It is the only parashah that does not have a weekly place during the yearly reading cycle. Instead, it is assigned to the evening of Simchat Torah, the holiday for rejoicing in Torah that immediately follows Sukkot.

With blessing, this parashah brings us to the end of the Torah scroll. On the evening of Simchat Torah, the only time we read Torah in the evening, these final verses are read and then immediately followed by turning back to the first chapter of Genesis. This yearly tradition symbolizes the continual evolutionary spiral of the spiritual quest and of Jewish tradition.

And this is the blessing, with which Moses the man of God blessed the people of Israel before his death. (33:1)

After Moses blesses each tribe, accenting the particular qualities of each, he blesses the entire community.

Happy are you, O Israel; who is like you, O people saved by the Eternal, the shield of your help, and who is the sword of your excellency! and your enemies shall submit themselves to you; and you shall tread upon their high places. (33:9)

The linking of God's blessing to military success is disturbing today. It is very clear that military victors are not always righteous and those suffering are not always sinful. Opening to a more inclusive spiritual consciousness is its own reward, but it is a spiritual and not a military victory. It is a victory of Presence, and a victory of Spirit.

We can translate the terms of Moses's blessing into the relationship between an inclusive spiritual consciousness and an awareness limited to personality. Imagining and acting as if our separate self is the focus of all meaning and purpose links us to what was called idolatry in ancient times. Remembering the Universal, remembering that which is shared, helps to awaken us to an inclusive spiritual reality.

The truth of Moses's blessing for our day awakens us to the truth of our being. We are One with the Eternal One; we are charged to express the Universal Presence through our individual and separate identities in the world. To the extent we are able to do this, we know a world of blessing; to the extent we fail, we know a world of great limitation.

Writing Prompts

The blessings I experience in this moment include. . .
On my spiritual path, I wish I could. . .
I feel the Presence of God most when. . .

Focus Phrases

I am grateful for the renewal of Spirit within me.
I celebrate greater kindness now.
God's Presence is with me all ways.

Photo: Mark Reden