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 May 20, 2017: Behar-Bechukotai

(Leviticus 25:1 - 27:34)

Of rewards and punishments

The Book of Leviticus concludes with promises of great blessings should the people obey God's commandments, and warnings of dire consequences should the people fail to do so. First, the blessings for obedience:

If you walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them, I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will remove evil beasts from the land, nor shall the sword go through your land. (26:3, 4, 6)

But the consequences of disobedience are considerable:

But if you will not listen to me, and will not do all these commandments; I also will do this to you; I will appoint over you terror, consumption, and fever, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart; and you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it...and I will bring the land into desolation; and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it. Then I will scatter you among the nations, and will draw out a sword after you; and your land shall be desolate, and your cities laid waste. (26:14, 16, 32, 33)

There are those, of course, who take these passages literally and often hold those who do not responsible for any painful things that befall the Jewish people. From this perspective, past and present episodes of anguish demonstrate our lack of observance.

But can we really accept such a way of thinking? Certainly, the horrors of the Shoah, the Holocaust, demonstrated that those who obeyed traditional commandments and those who did not met the very same fate.

Messages for adults

So what is truly required in order to serve an Eternal Presence? Is it adherence to a series of rules and regulations, or is it a Way of Life celebrating justice, love, and compassion?

To the priests, obedience to the rules leads to the desired ethical and moral behavior. But too often, such observance becomes automatic, divorced from compassionate actions in the world.

To the prophet, ritual observance alone fails to support the more important ethical imperatives. Often quoted, the verse from the prophet Micah beautifully sums up the prophetic vision:

God has told you, humankind, what is good; and what the Eternal One requires of you, only to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk with integrity in the Presence of your God. (Micah 6:8)

There is obviously a tension between such a prophetic statement and the myriad rules of sacrifice and service of the Book of Leviticus.

Promises of rewards and threats of punishments are ways we speak to children -- and to the child within ourselves. The prophetic pronouncements provide messages for adults.

More than that, rewards and punishments live in the land of ego, of our separate identities, always striving for a completeness that is beyond them. The prophetic expresses an inclusive wisdom, a more universal guidance of our Greater Self awakening to more universal truths.

A doorway into the world of promised blessings

The meeting place of the priestly and the prophetic may well be the Sabbath, the most important holiday of the Jewish year:

You shall make no idols nor graven image, nor erect a pillar, nor shall you set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I AM is the Eternal your God. You shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary; I AM is the Eternal. (26:1, 2)

Shabbat calls us to celebrate our connection to the whole of Creation. We learn in this parashah that even the land itself is to observe the Sabbath:

Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the Eternal. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruit; But the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest to the land, a sabbath for the Eternal; you shall not sow your field, nor prune your vineyard. (25:2-4)

Behind all the mitzvot is the constant called Shabbat. Shabbat for the person and Shabbat for the planet. An ecology before we even knew that word, an inclusivity of Being that speaks the essence of a spiritual consciousness.

On the priestly side, the rules of Shabbat observance concern the prohibition of 39 categories of work that were involved in the construction of the ancient Temple. On the more prophetic side, Shabbat offers renewal and rejuvenation, opening to the spiritual awakening to Wholeness and Completeness. Shabbat Shalom is both greeting, intention, and reality, conveying, "Sabbath Wholeness."

Shabbat offers a doorway into the world of promised blessings, a world of fulfillment and meaning. Shabbat is an invitation to release ourselves into the Consciousness of Wholeness, a true celebration of Creation.

When we open our hearts to the fullness of the moment, to the preciousness of purpose, to the fabric of connection, we are rewarded from the depths of our own soul. When we close our hearts, when we fail to celebrate Creation, when we lack purpose and meaning, we taste the bitterness of separation, a distance from ourselves, from others, and from our world.

Perhaps there are rewards and punishments, after all. But they are not imposed by some outer Authority. They are realized within each and every one of us.

The Meditation: Toward a Shabbat Moment

Please feel free to copy this meditation and carry it with you for those moments when you can devote time and energy to being consciously available for an inner awakening. You can record these words, leaving spaces of silence where appropriate, so that your own voice can support you.

Begin by remembering your Meditative Space

Take care to turn off your mobile phone or put it on airplane mode. Do what you can to protect yourself from interruptions, then find a comfortable place to sit. As you begin to settle in, you might tell yourself that there is nothing else you need to do now. Sit so that you can breathe freely and easily. Be as comfortable as possible.

Then take a few deep breaths. Even as you read this, you can notice how the breath fills your body, and how it feels to release the air freely and fully. Be aware of the fullness as you inhale, and then the release as you exhale.

And simply breathe easily. Focusing gently on your breathing naturally brings you into a quieter and calmer place. Focus on your breath now, and notice how you feel.

When you are ready, begin a gentle scan of your body. Start at your feet and notice how they feel right now. Direct your attention to your toes and slowly move up to your ankles. Take your time to slowly allow your awareness to explore your feet. Then move your attention upward through your legs. So slowly and gently. Moving your attention up through your thighs. And then your hips. Your abdomen and lower back. Your stomach and middle back. And then up and into your breath.

Rest in the breath for a moment, then begin again at the tips of your fingers, and move slowly up through your hands. Slowly and gently exploring your hands from the inside. Then move into your wrists. Your forearms, upper arms, and into your shoulders. No rush. Gently and easily moving all the way up and into your breath. And be with the breath for a few moments.

Then begin at the crown of your head and explore the sensations in your scalp. Become aware of your forehead, your eyebrows and your eyes. Your ears. Your nose. And then move into your jaw. Notice how your jaw feels, then focus on your mouth, your tongue, and your lips. And then move slowly down through your neck. Move all the way down into your breath. Take some time to simply rest in the space of your breath. In the quiet center of your body.

As your body relaxes, you can become more aware of the activity of your mind. You might notice the voice of your mind reading or repeating these words. You might hear that inner voice commenting on other aspects of your current experience. You might notice how thoughts simply rise in the mind continually. When you simply witness those thoughts, you will find them rising and falling away. Notice how the mind tends to reach back into a remembered past or project itself into concerns for an imagined future.

As you become conscious of the mind's voice, you can gain a greater appreciation for your more inclusive awareness. This awareness contains the mind but is not limited to it. From this more inclusive space, you realize that you have a mind, but you are more than your mind. You have a body, but you are more than your body. It becomes easier now to appreciate both body and mind, simply allowing them to be exactly as they are. Accepting them exactly as they are.

There is no need to change anything in this moment. You rest in the place of the witness. Your place of expanding calmness and deep security.

The celebration of creation

In this space of greater quiet, it is possible to release any need for the moment to be different than it is. The mind spins its thoughts, some more insistent than others, and it is possible to simply notice, without being captured by causes and stories. And, as soon as we realize that we have wandered into the mind's business, it's natural to simply notice, to appreciate the magnificent workings of the mind, and to move behind the mind back into the place of witness.

Resting as the witness. Aware of the mind, aware of the body. Aware of thoughts. Aware of sensations. But aware from such a gentle and relaxed place, a place of deep acceptance. An acceptance that begins to embrace every thought. An acceptance that holds every sensation. An acceptance that says, "Yes," to thoughts, to feelings, to sensations. An acceptance that simply says, "Yes," to it all.

And "Yes" opens us to the wonders of all Creation. "Yes" opens the door into the Consciousness called Shabbat. "Yes" is the gateway to celebration of the Life for which we are each precious vehicles.

Rest in this "Yes," now. Take time to simply respond, "Yes," to everything that rises in your consciousness. Just, "Yes." Allow yourself some "Yes" time now. . .

. . . and then allow yourself to enter into the concluding moments of this meditation by greeting all that rises with the words, "Thank you." Gratitude for it all, for the blessings as well as for the challenges. Just, "Thank you."

Until it's time to take a few deep breaths, drawing the air into every cell and every level of your being. Until it's time to open your eyes. . . and to appreciate the wonder of your being. . . the wonder of all Being.

Take some quiet time before you rise. Allow the energies of this taste of Shabbat to walk with you this day. Rejuvenated. Renewed. Open to the wonder of the moment.

Photo: Mark Reden