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 the week of June 10 - 16, 2018

(Numbers 16:1 - 18:32)

Dramatic punishment

Speaking the language of human being, the Torah invites us to discover ourselves through story. Each year, this parashah of the ultimate rebellion in the wilderness reminds us of the terrible consequences which can follow from the internal power struggles within a community. In this case, Korach, a Levite, along with Datan and Aviram, of the tribe of Reuben, rebelled against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Many rebellions had preceded this, but none so clearly questioning the leadership of Moses and Aaron.

And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Eternal is among them. Why then do you lift up yourselves above the congregation of the Eternal? (16:3)

Some rebellions are truly for the better good of person, of community, and of country, and some are power grabs with more personal goals. How are we to know when a rebellion will prove destructive, and when it will promote healing? Here, Korach seeks Aaron's priesthood. He is more interested in position than in purpose. He offers no comparable vision to that which has guided Moses and Aaron.

A few sections earlier, Moses supported the continued prophesying of Eldad and Medad, and wished that all the people might be moved to such ecstatic praise. He showed no need to reserve such gifts for himself. But he responds to this rebellion in a very different manner, perhaps because of the severity of the threat to his leadership. This time, there is no discussion, just dramatic punishment.

And Moses said, Hereby you shall know that the Eternal has sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of my own mind. If these men die the common death of all men, or if they are visited by the fate of all men; then the Eternal has not sent me. But if the Eternal creates a new thing, and the earth opens her mouth, and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them...then you shall know that these men have provoked the Eternal. (16:28-30)

The rest of the community is warned to distance themselves from these Levite leaders, whereupon this "new thing" wreaks immediate punishment upon those who challenged Moses and Aaron.

And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men who belonged to Korach, and all their goods. (16:32)

Nor are the group that had followed Korach spared, for there came out a fire from the Eternal, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who offered incense. (16:35)

Reclaiming our authentic power

Unfortunately, this violent drama failed to convince the people. The next day, all the congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, You have killed the people of the Eternal. (17:6) As punishment for this rebellion, a great plague broke out in which many people died.

Perhaps it is simply human to believe that negative reinforcement will best lead to true change. But time and time again, stories like this in Torah remind us differently. In dealing with ourselves and with others, negative energies will not really get us what we want. We may be controlled by fear of punishment, but the image of something better can best create deep change.

In our ancient Scripture, both God and Moses seem to have trouble learning the lesson that those in authority can only temporarily control through power. Perhaps it's the same with us today, as societally we continue to try to control with the threat of punishment.

If we know that power really doesn't heal the fears and the conflicts that arise whenever human beings are together, why are we still so power hungry? Why do we think that being powerful means that we must be able to exercise control over others? Haven't we learned how little we ourselves enjoy such authoritative attempts to control us?

The one who rebels, as well as the one in authority, lives within. Many of us learned early to deeply bury that rebellious part of ourselves, since it was frequently discouraged. But that old suppression and punishment, even when self-inflicted, diminishes the energy we have to creatively express ourselves. We often limp through life bereft of the very energy we need to function more effectively and more creatively.

Authentic personal power requires our willingness to accept all parts of self. As we unearth aspects once a threat to outer "authorities," we discover strengths long forgotten. Personal power does not impose itself in authoritarian ways, but allows us to discover, to express, and to celebrate our own wholeness.

New life and nourishment

Where the dispute with Moses concluded with death, the dispute over Aaron's priestly leadership concludes with new life. A representative of each of the twelve tribes is invited to provide a rod marked with the name of their tribe. Aaron offered a rod as the representative of the tribe of Levi. The rods were placed in the Tent of Testimony. The next day, the evidence was clear.

And it came to pass, that on the next day Moses went into the Tent of Testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds. (17:23)

Defending the leadership of Moses meant the death of many thousands; supporting the leadership of Aaron signaled new life and nourishment. Why this radical difference?

It appears that Moses was drawn down to the level of those who were attacking him, and Aaron was not. Anger can easily motivate violent responses, but meeting violence with greater violence cannot result in lasting peace. Even Moses, the greatest of our prophets, was not immune from self-righteous anger, reminding us that we, too, are capable of such a collapse.

The Meditation: Reclaiming ourselves

As always, find a comfortable place where you will not be interrupted for at least 20 minutes and, to avoid any sounds from notifications, make sure your cell phone is on airport mode. Take your time, and read slowly and thoughtfully.

Guiding yourself inside

I set aside this time for meditation, taking a break now from the regular activities of my day. I know that meditation gives me the opportunity to release deep layers of tension that arise from the world situation, as well as the regular demands and challenges of my life.

I take a full breath now and hold it for a moment before releasing it. And I pay close attention to how my body feels as I breathe deeply. I notice that I become more relaxed as I exhale more slowly. Taking a full breath, and letting it out through pursed lips as gently as possible....

Breathing easily and freely, I attend to my body. I focus on my feet, and just let them go, as if they are melting upon the ground beneath them.... I slowly bring my attention through my feet to my ankles.... and then to my lower legs.... And I practice letting go.... I move my awareness to my knees and thighs.... Letting go.... Aware of my hips, and how it feels to be supported as I sit. Letting go.... Moving my attention to my belly and my lower back.... And then, so gently, to my upper back and my chest.... Letting go....

Everywhere I focus in my body now, I find a quieting. A slowing down. It's as if my body is beginning to enter into its own meditation. I focus on my fingers, and my hands, and my wrists.... My awareness naturally moves up through my forearms, elbows, upper arms, and into my shoulders. Taking time now to let this be.... Until I focus again on my breathing....

I focus now on the top of my head, and begin the journey downward. My scalp, my forehead, my eyes.... I practice releasing tension as I read this, and I feel a deepening calm. My jaw, my mouth.... my lips, my chin.... There is deepening calm. Then, moving down through my neck.... and once again into my breath. For a few minutes now, I simply stay with my breath. That's all I need to do....

And in this quiet space, in this calm place, it becomes easier for me to allow things to be just as they are. To let my body and my mind to simply be as they are....

In this quiet space, I realize that I am the one aware of my body, but I am more than my body. I hold the body in my awareness, an awareness not limited to this body. And I am the one aware of my mind, and all its various thoughts and judgments.... I am the one who has this body; I am the one who has this mind....

I rest in this place of witness, aware that I am reading these words, aware that I am moving into a deepening meditative mindfulness, an expanding consciousness, welcoming the deeper teaching unfolding through this meditation....

Welcoming our hidden inner resources

In this state of calmness, it's easy to release myself from my attachment to this moment and drift into the land of memory. And there are so many memories. Sometimes I replay favorite scenes of accomplishment, and sometimes I find myself reliving less happy times. It's interesting to simply invite memories, and to notice what arises....

(Take a little time in silence. You might find repeating the memory prompt, "I remember...," and then pausing to discover what comes to mind.)

All kinds of memories. Sometimes those that grab the most attention carry energies of remorse, of failure, of pain, even of shame. Sometimes old guilts come to mind. Sometimes I imagine conversations as I try to heal something in the past....

I might find memories of moments when I realized that expressing certain feelings and thoughts was discouraged. Perhaps I felt that there were things I had to hide...thoughts and feelings that I had to push down...things I had to pretend were not there...

(Allow some time in silence to consider energies, thoughts, and feelings that were not welcomed by those who counted most in your life. You might even remember learning to bury those responses, hiding them, pretending they were not there. Your awareness itself naturally unearths those precious parts of self now.)

I am on a journey of reclaiming my wholeness. I am reclaiming all aspects of myself, even those that I once thought were unacceptable. As I bring once denied parts into the field of my awareness, I simply accept them, just as they are. I accept all parts of myself because I know they are meant to support my wholeness....

I no longer need to hide from myself. I open my heart to all memories now. I embrace especially those aspects of myself that I had been afraid to embrace. As I hold all parts of myself with unconditional acceptance, I feel a renewal of strength and clarity....

I know that as I reclaim old rebellious parts of myself, new possibilities present themselves. I am more available for the wonders of my life-journey. I feel a new sense of completeness as I welcome all aspects of my personal self. I am grateful for all of me now....

As I move toward the conclusion of this time of meditation, I know a deep realization of expanding inner resources. All the parts of me that I am welcoming contribute to a renewed sense of authentic personal power.

As I focus now on my breath, I breathe this realization of wholeness into every cell and every level of my being. I celebrate my mind, just as it is in this moment. I celebrate my body as it is right now. I look forward to exploring my life with the fuller integrity of my being....

And I take some time now to reclaim my normal wakeful awareness, and to appreciate these precious moments of meditation. I enjoy gentle whispers of curiosity about the ways the renewal of wholeness will actualize in my world.

Photo: Mark Reden