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 Shabbat of August 12, 2017: Ekev

(Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25)

Promises of Reward

Motivational texts are nothing new — they were a staple of biblical discourse. How do you get people to do something? Promise them success, health, and abundance. How do you stop people from doing something? Promise them defeat, illness, and scarcity.

This kind of motivation speaks specifically to the separate self, the personality part of ourselves that automatically seeks rewards and strives to avoid punishments. Here are some of the motivational promises for obedience:

Therefore it shall come to pass, if you give heed to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the Eternal your God shall ... love you, and bless you, and multiply you, ... and bless the fruit of your womb, and the fruit of your land, your grain, and your wine, and your oil, the produce of your cows, and the flocks of your sheep.... You shall be blessed above all people; there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle. (7:12-14)

The promises expand to embrace the entire natural world, as if everything depends upon our observance of the stipulated commandments.

... if you shall diligently observe my commandments which I command you this day ... I will give you the rain for your land in its due season ... that you may gather in your grain, and your wine, and your oil. And I will send grass in your fields for your cattle, that you may eat and be full. (11:13-15)

Promises of Punishment

Of course, there's the other side. If we were to be rewarded for good behavior, we could expect to be punished for acting otherwise. We might take credit for our success, forgetting that it was reward for right observance.

[lest] you say in your heart, My power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth, forgetting that it was given by God, and when, you forget the Eternal your God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I warn you solemnly this day that you shall surely perish. (from 8:17, 19)

The land itself will also be punished because of the peoples' lack of obedience:

Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and you turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; because then the Eternal's anger will be kindled against you, and he will close the skies, that there should be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and you will perish quickly from off the good land which the Eternal gives you. (11:16-17)

What are we to make of such promises?

Can we say that all the persecution through the ages, even the Shoah, were caused by our failure to be good biblical citizens? Is this just another way to blame the victim? Anything bad that happens means we got punished because we were bad?

Perhaps those promises of reward and punishment were meant for an earlier time, when a Path called Judaism was being born. Perhaps we were called the Children of Israel because we needed the kind of promises one makes to children: compliance brings reward, disobedience brings punishment. But this kind of authoritarian personality projected as the Face of the Universal is a projection of ego ideals and ego needs. It is an attempt to universalize the separate self, and that is not an evolutionary path.

The deeper teaching

A far more Universal teaching lies behind the system of Rewards and Punishments. In Torah, there are always several levels of teaching available, each fitting a particular state of consciousness, and the Universal teachings don't depend upon rewards and punishments. They are instructions for spiritual practice on a spiritual Path.

And now, Israel, what does the Eternal your God require of you, but to revere the Eternal your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, and to serve the Eternal your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (10:12)

These principles stand on their own. They do not rest on the punishments and the rewards of more specific requirements of that early biblical community. We open to the deeper wisdom of the heart and meet our soul vibrations when we live with a reverence for all Life, act with integrity, and express love for all Being. On this path we realize we are all part of One Being. We share One Life and One Presence. Nothing exists outside that One.

Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens belongs to the Eternal your God, and also the earth, and all that is in it. (10:14)

The spiritual path carries us beyond our identification with our limited separate self. Reverence, integrity, and love open our hearts and help us connect to our Greater Self.

The Meditation: The Deeper Unity

Please read over this entire meditation before beginning. Take your time, and read slowly and thoughtfully.

Connecting Particular and Personal

Begin to sense into all the parts of your body, beginning at your feet and working your way up to your breath. Then move slowly from your fingertips all the way up into your breath. Finally, move from the top of your head down into your breath. As you experience the parts of your body, be aware of the effect of your awareness. Without trying to change anything. Simply being aware.

Notice that all objects of Consciousness are particulars held in a greater Consciousness. Consciousness Itself contains the particulars yet is not limited by them. This meditation honors the specifics arising in Consciousness as well as the greater Consciousness behind those particulars.

Once you have achieved a relaxed and quiet inner space, begin to attend to each object of consciousness as it arises. Notice each thought, each judgment, each memory. When a sensation takes your attention, simply hold it in your awareness.

Notice that as you move among shifting thoughts and sensations, the Consciousness receiving all those is always greater than any of them. The mind and the body produce an endless spectrum of mental and physical contents, but the Consciousness who contains that spectrum is not Itself limited by any of it.

Here are two phrases to carry with you in this meditative practice. Repeat them gently in your mind. Repeat them with the breath. From time to time, return to them.

I am aware.
I am awareness.

When you conclude this meditation, and gently return to normal wakeful awareness, you might notice that this expanded awareness remains with you. You might realize that you can express the Universal through your particular being.

Photo: Mark Reden