How might we be shown the way forward toward balance?
Shanah Tovah, everyone. May this be a year of inner growth and fulfillment, where the quality of Tiferet reigns, Tiferet being the balance of form and feeling, of strength and love, leading to a life where our souls shine bright with beauty and our bodies hum with harmony.
We come together as a community to pray, to hope, and to search for guidance from beyond our limited minds.
This year we especially search for balance, not to stay there, but to re-center every day when parts of our selves feel out of harmony.
Our Torah readings for Rosh Hashanah offer a variety of approaches. How do we hear the voice of the Divine, or see the signs from the Holy One, whether directly or mediated through an angel, a winged being or an earthly messenger, or aspects of the earth or cosmos itself?
This morning’s reading (Genesis 22) says that our ancestor Avraham, Abraham, hears a challenging message from the One he worships. He hears that he is to take the only son he has with his wife, Sarah, and bring him as an offering to the top of a mountain. But before he can offer Yitzchak (Isaac) as a sacrifice Torah says he hears a different message– God’s voice coming through an angel, an angel that says “No Avraham. That is not the sacrifice I want.” Then Avraham sees a ram, and realizes it is the ram that God wants. Isaac’s survival is essential to the growth of the Jewish people. Yitzchak, his only Jewish child, lives on to father Ya’akov (Jacob), and he has ten sons (the Ten Tribes) and a daughter Dina, and so it goes until, well, here we are.
I wonder, did Avraham really hear words, or was it his intuition that made him stop and look around before sacrificing his son? He would then have seen the ram and felt in his heart that the ram was what God wanted, not a human sacrifice. Either way, Avraham got the message.
In a different era our Torah reading from the Book of Numbers, called the Maftir, details how worship was conducted in the days of the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting, also known as the Tabernacle. It was our place of worship while we wandered in the desert on our way to the Promised Land. Messages about travel were read by the Kohanim, the priests, by interpreting a sign from nature. During daylight they watched the pillar of cloud in front of the Tabernacle. If it moved, the Tent and the people moved. If it stayed still, the Tent and the people stayed where they were. At night God guided them with a pillar of light, as written in Exodus 13:21, “And God went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.”
Today we have no Tent, no cloud, no flame to follow. But when we feel out of balance, out of our Tiferet center, we can get messages from Higher Realms, from God or ancestors or friends, from our intuition or from angels (otherwise known as messengers), or from aspects of nature. It is up to us to notice our yearning and ask for signs, whether auditory, visual, or sensual. We have our inner knowing, our feeling senses, our gut reactions. Synchronicity or coincidence is another way the Divine sends us messages.
As the High Holy Days are about healing of spirit and soul, which are interconnected to our bodies, I want to mention two Jewish trail blazers in the field of imagery and healing, both of whom became known to me through the founder of Jewish Renewal, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi of blessed memory.
The first is the late Eugene Gendlin, the initiator of a technique called Focusing. Essentially it asks us to focus on the part of our body that resonates with the emotional, physical or spiritual challenge we are facing, and release the negative energy connected to it. When we are rebalanced, that is, when we are in Tiferet, healing follows. Gendlin trained many spiritual counselors to use his method.
The second is the late Colette Aboulker-Muscat. My husband Alan and I met her first in Jerusalem in 1986 and again in the late 90’s. Amazingly, Colette worked with people into her 90’s, fully alert, passing on the mystical heritage she received from the lineage of a famous Kaballist named Abulafia. It was known as the “Kaballah of Light,” or Chariot mysticism, based on what was described in the Book of Ezekiel. Colette was a contemporary mystic in her own right. She taught how to bring about healing and self-development through mental imagery, and trained several American teachers, including Gerald Epstein, Catherine Shainberg, and Rabbi Zalman’s widow, Eve Ilsen. While Colette’s methods required years of training, Dr. Epstein wrote a book for the public that I’ve used many times, called Healing Visualizations: Creating Health Through Imagery. If you are interested, it is still available through major booksellers.
In the spirit of getting messages, I’d like to share with you a song that came through me and a colleague in women’s spiritual leadership, Taya Shere, that invites us to ask to be shown how to live our best lives. I will sing it through once and invite you to sing along the second time, if you wish. If it is comfortable for you to close your eyes, please do so. When the song finishes, we will have a few moments of silence during which you may want to see if a thought or feeling arises in you that you want to pursue in the coming days.
“Cloud and Flame” by Shohama Wiener and Taya Shere
(Anan means cloud; eish means fire)
Em Am Em Em Am Em Am C
Anan va’eish, anan va’eish, cloud and flame
Em Am Em Em Am Em
Show us the way. Show us the way!
Em Am Em
Where we go; where we stay;
Em Am Em
May we know every day,
We sing and we pray,
Em Am Em Em Am Em
Show us the way! Show us the way!
For those of you who don’t know my history, let me say that spiritual life and Jewish prayer were not part of my adult life until age 35, when a life teetering on the precipice of falling apart with an ill husband and three young children to care for drove me to search for spiritual support.
As a last resort, I decided to go to synagogue to pray as if there were a God who listened.
Within a few seconds of mentioning God’s name in the prayer book I felt filled with an enormous sense of love, a feeling that continued through much of the service. Afterwards the rabbis invited me to meet with them. My heart leapt at the offer to join their classes, and the rest is history. Since that life-changing day, that Presence I called God, not always so strongly loving, but almost always accessible, became my guide and support. It brought me the balance, the Tiferet place, I so needed.
I offer this memory to those of you for whom prayer feels uncomfortable. Though it is my way, there are other ways. Connecting with a Higher Self, or an inner intuitive self, may also work. If you are here, or if you are just reading this message which will be posted on Your Shul by the Sea’s website, then perhaps you have a yearning for something more, some way of getting direction or healing.
These ten days are liminal times; that is, we say the connection between us and God, or the spiritual world, is especially strong. I invite you to notice where your mind and attention focus, as these Days of Awe are a special opportunity to appreciate life and see how we can best contribute to it. These days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are a time of Teshuvah, of return to our best selves, and a perfect opportunity to reconnect with and send good wishes or blessings to friends and family where healthy relationship is possible.
Tiferet calls us to balance love and boundaries, service and pleasure. Let us find that Tiferet center where love and harmony fill us and shine outward in what I call blessings.
In doing so may we all have a Shanah Tovah, a fulfilling and a good year! And let us say, “Amen,” may it be!