December 2019 Newsletter

 

Title

Rabbi Sam Feinsmith

The shadows of this world will say
There’s no hope why try anyway?
But every kindness large or slight
Shifts the balance toward the light
— Carrie Necommer

We are living in dark times when the looming specter of runaway climate change; deepening bigotry, and antisemitism; and a growing wave of populism, isolationism, political division, and scandal threaten to overshadow and even obscure altogether our essential light and goodness. During such times, it’s easy to despair, to feel overwhelmed by the darkness. It’s hard to find any hint of the Divine in the world. We may even forget to look. The late eighteenth century Hasidic master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, would have most certainly considered our time one of concealment within concealment:

There are two [levels of] concealment. When God is hidden in a single concealment, then as well it is very difficult to find God. Yet when God is hidden in a single concealment it is still possible for us to toil and strive until we finds God, since we are aware that God is hidden from us. But when God is concealed in a concealment within a concealment — in other words the concealment itself is concealed from us so that we are completely oblivious to the fact that God is hidden from us — then it is entirely impossible to find God, since we are not at all aware that God is hidden there…

Yet, in truth, even in all the concealments — even in a concealment within a concealment — God is certainly enclothed there as well. Indeed, there is nothing that is without the life force of God, since without God’s life force it could not exist. Therefore, God is certainly enclothed in all words, deeds, thoughts. And even if, Heaven forbid, a person is guilty of sin, which is a transgression of God’s will, God’s life force is certainly still there, albeit in a most hidden and contracted manner (Likkutei Moharan 56:III).

 

This story of Hanukkah paints the Hasmonean freedom fighters as a group of people who never stopped looking for God. Seeking to rekindle the Menorah and rededicate the Temple in the service of God, they discovered a tiny bit of oil in a hidden, dark place in the desecrated Temple shrine, a single jug that remained pure and untouched. From that tiny amount of light, a great miracle transpired, exceeding everyone’s expectations.

So many seem to have stopped looking for their inner goodness these days. At the Institute, we encourage people to keep looking, not to forget that the Divine is hidden…everywhere and in everything. Like the Hasmoneans, we know that something’s off, that God’s presence in the world is hidden from view. And so we seek…through practice. Armed with the light of awareness, we look deep inside to unearth that spiritual core of ourselves – that subtle part of us that is easily overlooked amid the din, tumult, anxiety, and fragmentation of modern living. As we come into greater intimacy with this essential part of who we are, we ultimately discover a reservoir of clarity, love, connection, and peace that was there all along waiting to be set aflame and dispel our inner darkness. This little piece of God in us is our candle. In its light, we might illuminate the inner seeds of darkness, ignorance, apathy, delusion, and division. As that light shines more brightly in us, we inexorably grow in our devotion and capacity to shine more of that inner light into an increasingly dark and confused world as clarity, wisdom, and compassion.

To help us with that work, I invite you to listen to Rebbe Nachman’s words set to music (translation below).

And, check out Carrie Newcomer’s Lean in Toward the Light here.

V’afilu B’hastarah Lyrics (transliteration and translation by Sam Feinsmith):
Aba sh’bashamayim omer lanu, anokhi astir panai ba’yom ha’hu ba’yom ha’hu ba’yom ha’hu
Aval rabbi nachman omer, gam m’achorei hadvarim ha’kashim ha’ovrim alekha ani omed, ani ome, ani omed
V’afilu b’hastarah sh’betokh ha’hastarah b’vadai gam sham nimtza hashem yitbarakh
Gam m’achorei hadvarim ha’kashim ha’ovrim alekha ani omed, ani ome, ani omed

Our Divine Parent says to us, “I will conceal my Face on that day” (Deut. 31:18).
But Rebbe Nachman says, “Even behind the difficult things that transpire in your life, I am there. Even in the concealment within the concealment, the blessed One is certainly present there too.”

 

 

Dialogues with Ourselves: A Meditation Practice

Rabbi Jonathan Slater

 

It may seem paradoxical to speak of “dialogues” when addressing meditation, such an inward and solitary practice. But, there are many such “conversations” that are possible in meditation. Of course, there is the rush of thoughts and feelings that become more present to us when we sit quietly.  But, beyond that are also these two practices.

One is the query of the observing mind, the mind of awareness, to any complaint or comment of the self: “Is that so?” or “Who says?” or “How do you know that to be true?” or “Who is knowing that?”

The other is the blessing or lovingkindness practice. Recognizing our deepest desires and truest intentions, we incline the heart toward love. We recite these phrases to open the heart to ourselves and all others: “May you feel safe; May you feel happy; May your body be strong; May your life unfold with ease.”

These dialogues deepen our  practice, rather than serve as distraction. In this practice, listen to the teaching first, and then, when you’re ready, settle in for the 10-minute guided meditation.

 


 

​The Spiritual Practice of Revealing Hidden Light

Rabbi Marc Margolius

 

“Darkness is your candle,” wrote the great Sufi poet Rumi. “You must have shadow and light source both.”

Jewish tradition understands darkness as an inherent and necessary aspect of life; our spiritual task is to extract sparks of holy light concealed within the shadows of life. In this season on encroaching darkness, this practice takes on special import.

According to tradition, the sacred light of the first day of Creation extended to the end of the universe; the Talmud questions how this could be so, since the heavenly luminaries were not created until day four. Rabbi Elazar answers that the light created on day one

was not that of the sun, but a different kind of light, through which humans could observe from one end of the world to the other. But when the Holy One of Blessing looked upon the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Dispersion and saw that their ways were corrupt and that they might misuse this light for evil, God arose and concealed it from them, as it is stated: “And from the wicked their light is withheld”(Job 38:15).1

This light is concealed from human being when we fall from consciousness and act “sinfully” or unwisely. After Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree, God granted them only an additional 36 hours of this light (from Friday midday through the first Shabbat), after which fell to them and future human beings to reveal the now concealed light through our own initiative. 2

We are charged with the task of perceiving and testifying to the continued existence of the or haganuz, the “hidden light,” and revealing it through sacred study and righteous deeds. The or haganuz is said to be revealed only to 36 tzadikim, 36 anonymous righteous people (the lamed-vavnikim) in each generation. 3 This number corresponds as well to the total of 36 lights we kindle on a single hanukiah over the eight nights of Chanukah.

Because do not know the identities of the 36 individuals by whose righteousness the earth is sustained, each of us must act as if we may be a lamed-vavnik. By bringing mindful intention to each of our words and actions, we can reveal the or haganuz, the light of sacred awareness which, while often concealed from view, is nevertheless present in each and every moment and experience.


1 Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 12a.
2 Jerusalem Talmud Berachot 60b:1
3 Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 97b: Abaye said: The world has no fewer than thirty-six righteous people in each generation who greet the Shechinah/Divine Presence, as it is stated: “Happy are all they who wait for Him [lo]” (Isaiah 30:18). The numerical value of lo, spelled lamed vav, is thirty-six.

 

Reaching Out in Love
Rabbi Sam Feinsmith

When our hearts are hardened, it’s hard to reach out and extend ourselves to others in love.  This guided meditation helps us to explore how to soften our hearts and open our hands so that we might better help those in need.  After a short teaching, Rabbi Sam Feinsmith offers a 10-minute guided meditation.