Thursday, September 9, 2010
L'Shanah Tovah Umetukah
The services I attended are part of the Kabbalah Centre International which is led by the Rav Philip Berg (a former New York Life Insurance salesman and his) family especially his wife Karen berg. The Rav while still active is pretty frail, although he fully participated in the services I attended. I'm much more familiar with his sons Yehuda and Michael, having attended or listened to Internet lectures packed with wisdom. These Kabbalists are controversial for a variety of reasons: authenticity, academics, lineage, and I am sure for many theological reasons not the least of which is the perception that this path of study of Kabbalah is in a popular sense associated with folks like Madonna, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher; and people like the BSL an Episcopalian and many non-Jews.
Traditionally Kabbalah is ancient mystical tradition within Judaism, associated with certain sects of orthodox believers. Kabbalah is closely identified with ancient texts, especially the Zohar a multi-volume work of a "Midrashic" character (Midrashic, if I understand the concept means the meaning of the Torah is sorted out through exegesis and homiletic literature in Rabbinical) traditional work similar in style to the Talmud, but which explicates the "coded meaning" of the Torah and Talmud. Got that? Let's see if I can briefly cast light as I understand it. God gave Moses the Torah, consisting of both written and oral laws. The Torah is canonically comprises the five Old Testament books of the Bible associated with Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Zohar provides keys to reaching a deeper understanding of many things while being of debatable historical and literary provenance. It is the understanding of many biblical scholars that the stories of the Old Testament are not to be literally read, rather the Zohar, and the Talmud illuminate the stories and metaphors, in another sense actually decode the Torah. One aspect of the all this that is surprising to me is the degree to which the actual words and especially the Aramaic letters comprising the words are separately revered and even assigned numerical meaning. I confess the latter is lost on me. Kabbalah and Judaism (?) believes that there are at least 10 emanations or dimensions of the creator including a state of pre-emanation, Ein Sof, that parallels cosmological thought in the 21st century--remarkably. Let me leave all of this to better qualified commentators, all I'm doing is badly hinting at what I've gathered over the last couple of years, specifically at the surface level of looking at the ideas in the last year. I'm saying that I find it fascinating, and I can see how people devote their entire lives to the study of Kabbalah.
The experience in Washington has been as my wonderful "teacher" Yehuda Dan, likes to say: AMAZING. The Kabbalah Centre knows how to throw a party. There were over 2200 people, there, from all over the world, and I mean all over the world. There were sections set aside for many attendees from many countries, I sat with folks from Istanbul, Wednesday night, Israelis on Friday night, and men from Indonesia on Saturday. Maybe the largest foreign segment of participants came from Mexico, South America and Spain. Absolutely everything was translated in real time on large video screens.
Interespersed throughout the services and before services were numerous lectures some related to the actual services, prayer and meditation; but, also a real push on participants to achieve a level of consciousness that can be exported. One of the "celebrity followers" has been active in conceiving and promoting the idea of the cancellation of third world debt as well as the movement to end child slavery worldwide, with a push that resulted in enactment of over 150 local laws against the practice world wide both efforts inspired by the study of Torah. The environment minister of Panama spoke about his international efforts in Central and South America and he spoke about being inspired by the study of Kabbalah. A wonderful South American woman talked about her work with an indigenous matriarchal community impoverished by the exploration for natural resources off the coast of Brazil and Venezuela, inspired by her study of Kabbalah.
Rosh Hashanah is the traditional "Jewish New Year," by the way this is the beginning of the year 5771--that is, 5,771 years after the creation of Adam (which was actually on the Sixth Day, by tradition.) The holiday is really a very profound examination of one's less than ideal actions and reactions and connection to the creator. The holiday is atonement, prayer for self and others, meditation, and effort to connect to the creator's will for us and the power to carry that out over the next year. My brain hurts! The highlight of the service is the blowing of the Shofar (pic). The Shofar, is a traditional goat horn and the blowing of the horn is supposed to blow away judgments on a soul or spiritual level. Thus, why the BSL cared enough to insist that I go.
I confess that I felt a tremendous lifting of negativity by the end of the services and celebration. I recognize as a result of my prayer and meditation the seed level of much of my suffering and pain. I see my role in the development of my woes through the myriad many acts of inconsideration, negativity and darkness, of course my work at this blawg over the last year was preparatory. I believe I accumulated and accreted darkness and cynicism, seeing the world as hostile and unyielding--I saw pain and loss as inevitable. At one point in the service, men kneel and press their foreheads to the floor to "ground" their negativity--I was worried that when this ended there would be no "me," leftover to stand. If there was a mirror nearby would I see myself reflected back?
The one pointed idea that I came away with is the truth that the stone that was discarded in the building of the Temple, ultimately was the missing piece, recovered by the builders and made the corner stone. Jesus, reminds his followers of this idea in the Gospels and we see this idea enacted in our lives, again and again. This, of course, is the story of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous--two bust-out drunks: Bill W and Dr. Bob, are able to help one another stay sober and subsequently millions of others to recover from all sorts of addictions and mental and emotional illnesses. Likewise, Rav Phillip Berg, is derided as inauthentic by some, yet the discarded stone becomes the cornerstone. Rav Berg understood and embodies this idea. He has brought much light into the world, and even in his post-stroke infirmity blew the Shofar.
As I head down the home stretch to my sentencing in federal court for my tax crime, I will cling to this hope and idea that as a "discarded stone" I yet have some role to play in the building of something--somewhere, someday. As Michael Berg said in one of his lectures even when the "voice of the heavens tell you 'stop,' never stop."
The traditional greeting of Rosh Hashanah is L'Shanah Tovah, or L'Shanah Tovah Umetukah: both wish you a good year, but I like the latter which also conveys the additional wish that your year is sweet. Next year in Jerusalem!