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 Jan. 14, 2017: Vayelech

(Genesis 47:28 - 50:26)

If you cannot trust yourself to be honest

This is the final parashah in the Book of Genesis, the end of the early saga of people and purpose, of myth and meaning. We have moved from Creation through the journeys of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose final blessing to his sons and then his death occur in this section.

Jacob's sons become the twelve tribes of Israel, and they are united in the Land of Goshen, a fertile area of Egypt. They were brought there by Joseph, their younger brother whom they had hated because he had been their father's favorite. Out of their jealousy, they sold him into slavery, and gave their father evidence that he had been killed by a wild animal. But Joseph did not die; instead, he succeeded wherever he found himself, finally emerging as the most powerful person in Egypt, the chief advisor to the Pharaoh.

Joseph bore no malice against his brothers and did what he could to relieve them of any guilt they might carry. He told them that even though they had meant him harm, everything had unfolded exactly as it had in order to enable their survival. Joseph told them repeatedly that what they meant for evil, God meant for good. There was greater purpose than they could have imagined. Everything conspired to allow Joseph to secure the position required to provide what his family, the twelve tribes of Israel, would require.

Yet his message of deep forgiveness did not penetrate the hearts of his brothers. Shortly after their father's death, they again fear that Joseph had only refrained from punishing them because Jacob was still alive.

And when Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "Joseph will perhaps hate us, and will certainly pay us back for all the evil which we did to him." (50:15)

They could not trust themselves to be honest with their younger brother, so they invented a story that had their father protecting them from the wrath they persisted in believing that Joseph was about to unleash against them.

Then they approached Joseph, and said, "Your father gave this instruction before he died. He said, 'Tell Joseph, Forgive, I beg you now, the wrong of your brothers, and their sin; for they did evil to you.' And now, we beg you, please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father." And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. (50:16-17)

Joseph's response, following his tears, was consistent with what he had said all along.

And Joseph said to them, "Fear not; for am I in the place of God? You thought evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, allowing many people to survive. So do not fear; I will nourish you, and your little ones." And he comforted them, and spoke kindly to them. (50:19-21)

Forgiveness releases the one doing the forgiving

The story teaches us that forgiveness releases the one doing the forgiving, but not always the one who is being forgiven. Joseph does not carry resentment because he has forgiven. He has released his need for the past to have been any different than it was. But his brothers could only be released from their overwhelming guilt if they learned to forgive themselves.

It's one thing to forgive another, to let go of our anger over past pains. It's quite another to forgive ourselves for thoughts, feelings, and acts that caused pain to ourselves and to others. This is often the real challenge. Yet forgiveness must come from within. No one can do it for us. Forgiving ourselves does not mean denying the past, but learning from it.

Forgiving ourselves ultimately means realizing the blessings of the present moment and appreciating that we got here the only way we could. It is the blessing of the present that allows true forgiveness of the past. Blessing this moment embraces all that has come before in the arms of unconditional acceptance.

The basics for moving into your meditative space

Please feel free to copy this meditation and carry it with you for those moments when you find space to devote time and energy to being consciously available for an inner awakening. You might find that recording your meditative moments in a journal enhances your awareness of the ways you find them reflected in the world around you.

Always prepare for your meditation by becoming as comfortable as you can at this moment. Most of us sit while meditating, making sure that our arms and legs are not crossed, and that we are positioned to allow us to breathe freely and easily. Take a few moments to find your correct position now.

As you begin to settle in, remember that there is nothing else you need to do now. Turn off your mobile phone or put it on airplane mode. Do what you can to reduce interruptions, then allow yourself a few deep breaths.

Your gentle attention to the breath naturally brings you into a quieter and calmer consciousness. You might want to hold the breath in for a few seconds before you release it, appreciating the fullness inside. Then, for a moment after you exhale, you can pause and appreciate the quiet of the emptiness. Simply noticing how the body fills and how the body releases. Aware of fullness and emptiness. As you focus on your breath for several minutes, calmness expands.

When you are ready, begin a gentle body scan from the inside. Notice how it is to be embodied by attending to how you experience each part of your body. Take time, even as you read this, to flow your awareness through your entire body. From the tips of your toes all the way up to your heart. From the tips of your fingers all the way up to your heart. And from the top of your head all the way down to your heart. You can rest in the space of your heart. In the place of your breath. In the center of your calmness.

And then, become gently aware of the wanderings of your mind. Perhaps you can hear the voice of your mind reading these words aloud. Perhaps you are able to hear that inner voice commenting on other aspects of your experience. Notice how the mind automatically reaches back into a remembered past or into an imagined future.

As you become more conscious of the mind's voice, you can naturally appreciate your more inclusive awareness that contains the mind but is not limited to it. In your more restful state, 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.

Rest in this place of witness, a place of expanding calmness and deep security.

Opening to inner forgiveness

In spaces of calmness and quiet, it is easier to appreciate how much of the time we spend thinking about the past. Often, we find ourselves revisiting moments of difficulty and pain. We tend to replay experiences of shame and embarrassment. We find ourselves remembering times we caused pain to others and to ourselves. We remember our mistakes. We might wish things had been different, wish that we had been different, wish that we had acted differently. There are so many memories. But when we allow ourselves to remain in the space of the witness, and simply observe how the mind tends to replay past misdeeds, we can appreciate that, without forgiveness, we simply live those difficult moments repeatedly, without resolution. Breathing easily, returning to the consciousness of witness, it is possible to focus on the present moment. Repetitions of the past can eclipse our fuller appreciation of our current experience. Yet it is the very appreciation of this moment that allows us to forgive ourselves for having the past we do. In this moment of quiet and calm, perhaps we can hear an inner whisper of deep assurance. Whispers meeting us from our greater Self, reminding us that we can bless the past when we step more fully into the present. Imagine an inner voice gently repeating these words: You can release the past because it simply was as it was. The past has enabled you to grow into the person you are becoming. You can release any self-condemnation and express greater kindness toward yourself and others. You naturally become aware of the abundant blessings of this moment. Breathing easily, listening to the reassurance of your greater Self, opening to greater acceptance. Letting be what was so that it no longer infects the present. Breathing into this moment as you become aware of your body. Curious about the ways sharing greater kindness will emerge to demonstrate this deep inner forgiveness. When you are ready, simply focus on the breath, and return to the body. Take a few moments before you rise to simply appreciate yourself for taking this meditative time for rejuvenation and for healing.

Photo: Mark Reden