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 Jan. 13 - 19, 2019:

(Exodus 13:17 - 17:16)

It is up to us

Finally, the People of Israel were permitted to leave Egypt. The killing of Egypt's firstborn was, at least temporarily, too much for the Pharaoh, and he told Moses to take the people and go. But the nature of the journey proved a surprise to the Israelites. With their slave mentality, they had forgotten their own power, and just leaving the land of their enslavement was not enough to restore it to them.

The Bible tells us that when the people got to the Red Sea, they saw that this body of water blocked their way. Caught between the sea and the advancing chariots of Pharaoh, the hope of the people Israel faltered.

According to the Torah, God told Moses to stretch out his staff so the waters could part. According to a midrash (later expositional material), it was one individual, Nachshon ben Aminadav, who strode out from among the paralyzed group to walk resolutely into the future. The midrash relates that it was not until the water was up to Nachshon's nose that it parted, showing the rest of the community a way across.

We did not have to wait for God, or even for Moses, to save us in that critical situation. The celebration of that moment has reverberated through millennia symbolizing possibilities that we can initiate even at the most challenging of times. It is up to us.

The event was first celebrated in a brief song identified as one of the oldest texts in the Hebrew Bible.

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines, dancing. And Miriam sang, Sing to the Eternal, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and rider He has thrown into the sea. (15:20-21)

The path to freedom is never without its challenges, its obstructions, and its confusion. We are enslaved through habit and circumstance, often believing ourselves to be more powerless than we are. We distance ourselves from the very freedom we seek when we wait for someone else to head out into the waters first.

Crossing the sea was hardly the final step in that ancient journey toward freedom, but we sang in celebration anyway. The song was a critical affirmation of the possibilities we saw. It's important to celebrate every time we realize we have stepped just a little bit closer to our highest visions. It's our song of freedom.

A four-fold song

Many centuries later, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), the poet-mystic-scholar who became the first chief rabbi of Palestine, wrote of a four-fold song.

There is one who sings the song of his own life, and in himself he finds everything, his full spiritual satisfaction.

There is another who sings the song of her people. She leaves the circle of her own individual self... and aspires toward greater heights. She attaches herself with a gentle love to the whole community of her people.

And there is another who ... goes beyond the boundary of a single people to sing the song of all humankind. His spirit extends to the wider vistas of the majesty of all people, recognizing their sacred Essence.

Then there is one who rises toward even wider horizons, until she links herself with all existence, with all God's creatures, with all worlds, and she sings her song with all of them.

And then there is one who rises with all these songs in one ensemble. And they all join their voices. Together they sing their songs with beauty, each one lending vitality and life to the other. They are sounds of joy and gladness, sounds of jubilation and celebration, sounds of ecstasy and holiness.

— Excerpted from Lights of Holiness, Vol. II, Translation, Ben Zion Bokser, in Abraham Isaac Kook, Paulist Press, pp 228-9

It is time to find our song of greater freedom

Like Nachshon ben Aminadav, it's time for us to take the first step and sing the song announcing our deliverance. To sing our way out of the enslavement of self-centeredness and self-recrimination, to sing the song that parts the waters. It's time to sing of our essential loving Self.

As wonderful as that is, we are then called upon to sing the song of our people, opening ourselves to embrace our whole community. Then we open more inclusively to sing the song of all people, realizing ourselves as one, on our way to the song of all Life. And, finally, trusting our song enough to surrender to a harmony beyond expectation.

We get caught up in thinking that our songs cannot coexist, that it's either my song or your song, but not both. In trying to get everyone to sing our song, we lose any hope of harmony, any hope of reconciliation, any hope of a shared evolutionary path. Our words too easily separate us; our songs invite a deeper harmony.

It is time to find our song of greater freedom, and celebrate the Life we share. It's time to invite others to sing their songs, that we might transcend our enslavement to polarization and celebrate the more inclusive harmony of Life.

The Meditation: Finding Your Song

Begin your meditation time with becoming as comfortable as possible. Remind yourself that there is nothing else you need to do right now.

Take a few deep breaths. Notice the filling and the release. The fullness and the emptiness. Paying gentle attention helps us enter into a more meditative consciousness. Allow your breath to be your focus for as long as you wish.

When it's time, gently scan your body. Notice how right it is now to find yourself in that body. Attend to the ways in which you experience each part of your body.

Then notice the wanderings of your mind. Perhaps the voice of your mind is reading these words aloud. Becoming more conscious of the mind's voice helps us realize the nature of the awareness that contains the mind but is not limited to it.

As we enter into meditation, it becomes clearer that we have a mind, rather than our mind having us. We are more than our mind. As we rest in this awareness, it becomes easier to appreciate the mind, allowing it to roam where it will. We rest in the place of witness. A place of expanding calmness and deep security.

Opening to the song of our soul

In this moment of greater quiet, we begin to open to the nature of the song of our soul. The song might come as melody, it might emerge as a sensation of opening, it might announce itself with a word.

It's the song of a soul waking up to the perfection of its host. It's the song of the soul appreciating the precious container it occupies. The song of our soul is a song of release. Release from self-doubt. Release from beliefs of weakness. Release from self-judgment. It's the song of our soul rejoicing in itself. Right now. Right here.

It's the song of the breath. It's the song of a chant. It's the song awakening as we embrace all those we consider to be part of our community. Precious souls with whom we share a greater song. An opening of the heart. So naturally. The song expands, the song includes, the song celebrates.

And our soul-song expands further. It is a song of our own soul, it is a song of our community, and it is a song of all people, until our song is a song of all Life, and our song is a song of all Being. Our soul-song expanding, and in that expansion, becoming aware of the songs of other souls. A symphony of soul-songs. A harmony of Life. A celebration of wholeness. A harmony of peace.

Our soul-song is a song of connection to self, to others, to all others, to all Life, and to all Being. Our soul-song is part of a universal harmony eclipsing polarization, embracing it all, celebrating all.

With each breath, that soul-song expresses. With each breath, that song moves through every cell and every level of your being. With each breath, becoming more aware of your body, aware of your place, coming into wakeful awareness.

With each breath, a revitalization and a renewal of hope and possibility.

Photo: Mark Reden