Rekindler of the Extinguished

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, מְחַיֵּה הַמֵּתִים

Blessed be H’, Rekindler of the Extinguished

There are times when the fires of spirit seem to grow cold, when fervor abates, prayers become wooden and devotions routine.

All this is natural, and is as much part of the inner life as the cycles of day and night, new moons and old, summer and winter are features of the celestial planes.

But there is a difference. Our minds can comprehend the rhythms of the external world, and our senses let us follow their ebbs and flows. When the hours after midnight seem black and long, we glance at our watches, and yes, just ninety minutes till the first glimmering of dawn; when the waning crescent moon disappears in the east, the almanac will tell us when to expect its return in the west; in the depths of winter we can often smell the approach of spring.

What aids us, though, if the very Face of H grows faint and dim? And if the glowing embers  of Presence flicker out and die, what assurance is there that that dark emptiness will ever end? Who has not experienced fear of an everlasting loss of Spirit?

In fact, terror of the endless eclipse of God can prepare us for renewal. Daily we acknowledge the name of H’ as “Rekindler of the Extinguished.*” When we call from the place of no-spirit,  it is precisely there that the Glory is manifest again, and a great mystery is revealed: H’ resides hidden within its own absence.

“There is no place without H’.

[* Symbolic interpretation of the prayer for the resurrection of the dead.]

@2011 Jonathan Omer-Man

Sweet Song of Exile

 פִּתְחוּ לִי שַׁעֲרֵי צֶדֶק אָבֹא בָם

Open for me, gates of triumph, open that I may enter and praise H’. This is the gate to H’, through which the company of the Righteous pass.

Open for me the gates.” The prayer is earnest, the intention pure, but the answer may still be ‘no’; you may not come in, you will have to remain outside. Was not the Great Teacher, Moses himself, denied permission to go into the Land (though he did gaze at it from the mountaintop)? And did not those others, the lost generations, traverse many stations of trial and purification, only to perish in the wilderness, yearning for but never approaching the Holy of Holies?

And yet, we are told, the farthest are the nearest, the outermost are the innermost, and the most distant of limbs have a place within the heart of hearts.

So the traveler, excluded from those circles of priests and tiers of levites, sits encamped beyond the walls,  and there chants a different song of praise: Blessed is the One that contains the All.

@2011 Jonathan Omer-Man

The River and the Flame

אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ

Formal prayer is not always easy. The words may not flow naturally, or are blocked by distractions, either inner or outer, or by plain reluctance to repeat familiar phrases of antique devotions. We need help in fine-tuning our voices, in eliminating extraneous thoughts and automatic pieties; and so, immediately before reciting the Amidah, the essential core of the liturgy,  we pause to remember a verse from Psalms:

H’, open my lips that my mouth will speak of your Glory.

This is a simple acknowledgement that we cannot do it alone. “Help me, H’, open wide the floodgates of my heart that the songs of gratitude, of petition, and of praise may gush forth freely.”

But there is another interpretation of that same Hebrew verse, according to which the term “your Glory” refers to an actual manifestation of the divine.

H’, open my lips that my mouth will utter “your Glory.”

We do not pray to H’; rather we offer ourselves as  clear channels for “your Glory,” God’s fire if you will, that it may pass through us on its journey from soul to Source.

 שכינה מדברת מגרונו

@2011 Jonathan Omer-Man

“After the Rain The Clouds Return “

וְתֵן טַל וּמָטָר לִבְרָכָה

“Give dew and showers for a blessing”

(from the winter liturgy)

The dew from Heaven will not descend till all below is still and silent. It cannot cover us with its droplets of pure blessing while busy storms buffet us from without, blustering winds echo through our minds within.

And after the dew come the showers, tears shed in hope and in remorse, weeping in yearning for the Encounter, sobbing in grief over all the dreadful waste.

And after the showers, the streams merge and flow as a single river to water the Garden: the meadow’s browned grasses green again, furry buds spike and bloom, and over there, as the mist rises, could that be the Tree?

ושבו העבים אחר הגשם

Malicious Tongues, Fawning Friends

וְהַרְחִיקֵֽנוּ מֵאָדָם רָע וּמֵחָבֵר רָע

Keep us away from malicious tongues  and fawning friends

Many of us, and especially those who have made a commitment to following a spiritual path within community,  are aware of the need for a balanced regimen of love  and reproof  from our companions. Without it, focus becomes blurred, alignments are bent crooked, and self-deception reigns unchecked.

Such love and reproof are not free-form activities, but Torah-sanctioned instructions whose fulfillment is informed by subtle rules, by courtesy and by respect. Rebuke, no matter how precise, is rarely heeded if its source is not trustworthy;  deserved praise that becomes fulsome may sink into flattery, surely one of the more mischievous potions that humanity has ever concocted.

Help us, H’, to keep good company.

The Face Behind the Faces

“Shine your Mind, H’, into my mind”                וּמֵחָכְמָתְךָ, אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, תַּאֲצִיל עָלַי, וּמִבִּינָתְךָ תְּבִינֵֽנִי

(from the early morning prayers)

It is said that Torah has seventy faces upon which we may gaze when we desire to approach Her, but only from an appropriate, respectful distance. The sacred text remains other. This practice is known as Torah study, a foundational component of the Jewish path, and one that serves many roles. For some it offers guidance in observing the precepts of the Law; others find in it profound insights into the largest questions of meaning of life, of the problem of good and evil, of existence as a whole; for yet others it is an intellectually exciting or a culturally enriching experience.

And there is another Torah study, one whose followers have been described variously as “reapers of the field,” or as “those who enter and leave in peace.” Their quest is for the Hidden Face that lies behind the seventy, and It takes them on a journey that is both marvelous and arduous; they must traverse many steps and stages of understanding, each of which requires persistence, intense refinement of being, and good guidance. Its  culmination is the station of bliss described by the Great Eagle* as that in which “the knower, the knowing and the known are one.”

 Of this it is said, “Shine your Mind, H’, into my mind

Go study!


Praying Your Way out of Egypt

זכר ליציאת מצרים                                                                                       הנני

In the traditional liturgy we recite the phrase “a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt” several times a day. Now were this to be only about the historical event, the frequency could be considered to be excessive.  However, the Hebrew word “Mitzrayim” (Egypt) can refer not just to a certain ancient kingdom, but also to another, inner state, one in which it is not the body that is held  in bondage but the soul itself that is captive, entangled within a web of false stories and imagined dramas.

Let us free! But the work is hard, the journey home is long. Were we to peel away each of the threads, all those obsolete myths,  ossified fears, promises unkept, and dreams unrealized, one at a time, it could take 10,000 years. But there is a shorter way:

Let soul clap its hands and pray, and louder pray.

Let us say: הנני Hineini. I Am H’, I am here!

A Minor Earthquake in Berkeley

ברוך מחיה המתים                                                                      ברוך שכוחו גבורתו מלא עולם

One evening last week, while I was at home dining with friends, the earth beneath us trembled, sharply, and I knew then the Terror and the Dread.  I died a little death. Though I did say yes, yes to your Strength and your Power,  I was not ready, H’, to stand naked before your Presence..

Within two or three seconds it was all over. “An earthquake,” we said nervously, “a small one, but very close.” We had a drink, and ended the evening together in closer companionship.

Praise be to H’, overturner of mountains, whose dread finger touched me!

Praise be to H’, raiser of the dead, whose sweet breath revived me!

Praise be to H’!

Remembering to remember

          Remember the Sabbath Day     זכור את יום השבת

There is a Shabbat that we celebrate once a week, twenty-five hours of sacred time devoted to  rest, fellowship, prayer, and spiritual reflection. On this day we separate ourselves from the physical world of commerce and manufacture, and strive to banish distractions that intrude from the quotidian. Observance of this Shabbat is a cornerstone of Jewish practice, and it is well guarded by law and by custom.

Of this it is said: Shamor! Guard!

And there a Shabbat that is present at all times, the center point. This Shabbat is a faint light that emerges from the source of all being. Subtle, hidden, it abides in mystery,  and is revealed only in rare moments of solitary contemplation,  or when ritual acts are performed  in perfect alignment. It is easily forgotten.

Of this it is said: Zakhor! Remember!

And furthermore it is said: Shamor and Zakhor are one, Guarding and Remembering are one.


Meetings with Remarkable Messengers

שָלוֹם עֲלֵיכֶם מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָרֵת מַלְאֲכֵי עֶלְיו

Sometimes, when the world of Spirit brushes against our own, tiny ripples arise and drift across our minds. These extra-ordinary experiences are called angels, or messengers.

A mystical hymn about such encounters is chanted every Sabbath eve: Shalom Aleikhem Malaakhei ha Sharet, “Welcome to you, ministering angels.” It consists of four short verses:

Shalom Aleikhem: Welcome, Ministering angels. This is a courteous greeting, but it is tentative, and we must enquire: Are you truly Messengers from on high? Did you come from the Source of All Being, or are you figments of my fancy?

Bo’akhem Leshalom: Come, Messengers from on high, who are indeed messengers from the Source of All Being. Do not pass me by, O angels from on high, enter my tent, enjoy my hospitality, abide with me!

Barkhuni Leshalom: Bless me, Messengers from on high, angels from the Source of All Being. Bless me, know me, touch me, name me, shine your light upon my soul, leave your mark upon my heart!

Tzeytkhem leshalom: Farewell, Messengers from on high, go to your place in peace. I cannot hold you back; but know, should you return I shall be here.