“I bow to You”

The amount that I learn from my sons never ceases to amaze me!
This lesson was brought to me by my three-year-old, Evan …
… to whom I bow on a regular basis …

This weekend is Purim, the holiday celebrating the timeless story of Queen Esther, who married the King of Persia so that she would be able to save the Jews from an evil plot to destroy them. The antagonist in the story is Haman, the king’s advisor who becomes enraged and decides he wants to kill all of the Jews when one of them (Mordechai – Esther’s uncle) refuses to bow to Haman.

Mordechai refuses to bow to Haman because Mordechai bows only to the G-d of the Jews. And I can’t find fault in his logic — after all, a prohibition against bowing to other gods and idols did make the “Top Ten List” that Moses brought down (twice) from Mt. Sinai. See Exodus 20:5 (“You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous G-d ….”).

But then last week, Evan came home from preschool and in a sweet light voice repeatedly sang, “Namaste.” When we asked about it, he explained they say it in yoga class. After a quick Google search, we all learned namaste comes from India.

The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another. Nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, namaste literally means “bow me you” or “I bow to you.”
For a teacher and student,
Namaste allows two individuals to come together energetically to a place of connection and timelessness, free from the bonds of ego-connection. … The teacher initiates Namaste as a symbol of gratitude and respect toward her students and her own teachers and in return invites the students to connect with their lineage, thereby allowing the truth to flow—the truth that we are all one when we live from the heart.


And that made me think: “HEY!! Wait a minute! …a divine spark in each of us … we are all one … Those sound familiar!!

In Genesis 2:7, G-d created man from the dirt of the ground and breathed into man’s nose the “breath of life,” and then “man became a living soul.”  For over 2000 years, some Jews have interpreted this text to mean G-d placed a bit of G-d’s self into each of us.  See Louis Jacobs, “The Doctrine of the ‘Divine Spark’ in Man in Jewish Sources,” available at http://louisjacobs.org/articles/view.php?id=79 (last visited Feb. 21, 2013).

And Moses Cordovero wrote (as translated by Daniel Matt):

The essence of divinity if found in every single thing– nothing but it exists.  Since it causes every thing to be, no thing can live by anything else.  It enlivens them; its existence exists in each existent. . . . Do not say, “This is a stone and not G-d.”  Rather, all existence is G-d, and the stone is a thing pervaded by divinity.

The Essential Kabbalah at 24 (HarperOne 1995).

So, if non-dualist Jews like me believe in a divine spark in each individual (and in everything else that exists!), then what about this bowing?? Should Mordechai have bowed to Haman? Can this seeming contradiction be reconciled?? Let’s find out!!

Both kinds of bowing — to Authority and as Namaste — are about honor and respect.

Bowing to Authority is an act that is expected from one considered inferior, and it is demanded either by one who IS superior (which is only G-d!!) or by those humans who, in their arrogance, mistake themselves as superior to other humans.

Namaste, on the other hand, is neither demanded nor expected; it is offered freely and from a place of equality between people.

Namaste is offered to the Divine Spark that resides in the heart/soul of the other person; that Spark is directly from G-d and is “of G-d.”

Bowing to Authority, on the other hand — unless that Authority is G-d — is bowing to that human’s EGO, the “outer shell of another person” based on who or what that person happens to be at that moment in his lifetime. The ego is believed to be the part of our psyche that prevents us from accessing our own holiness, that metaphorically “stands between” us and G-d. It similarly stands between us and the G-dliness within us, preventing us from acting from true lovingkindness. And, when we act from our ego, it often prevents others from seeing the Light of the Divine Spark within us.

Thus, the only Authority to whom we should bow is G-d and, when we bow as Namaste, we are bowing only to the Divine Spark in that other person’s soul … Both forms of bowing really are offered only to G-d!!

So, should Mordechai have bowed to Haman when Haman demanded??? NO!!! Because that demand came from Haman’s ego, and the Ten Commandments do not permit us to bow to an ego, because that is idolatry.

But could Mordechai bow when he sees Queen Esther??  Yes — but not because she is queen!!! He should bow to Esther out of respect for the Divine Spark within Esther that gave her the courage to risk her own life to save the Jewish people.

In my quest to be more conscious of “Oneness” in more places and at more times throughout each day, I’ve decided I’m going to start giving a little bow and thinking “Namaste” when I see others act from their Divine Spark, rather than from their ego. To assist myself in knowing what to look for, I found this prayer that gives examples of when peoples’ actions are holy:

There is holiness when we strive to be true to the best we know.
There is holiness when we are kind to someone who cannot possibly be of service to us.
There is holiness when we promote family harmony.
There is holiness when we forget what divides us and remember what unites us.
There is holiness when we are willing to be laughed at for what we believe in.
There is holiness when we love — truly, honestly, and unselfishly.
There is holiness when we remember the lonely and bring cheer to a dark corner.
There is holiness when we share — our bread, our ideas, our enthusiasm.
There is holiness when we gather to pray to The One who gave us the power to pray.

Regardless whether you join me in bowing to the Divine Spark in others, I pray that every day you see more holiness in the world around you!!

Shabbat Shalom, jen

Just another day?


Did you see the sunrise this morning????

The sunlight set the clouds ablaze and was streaming out between them. It was dawn, but the dawn of what?

Just another day of the daily grind??

In “The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness.” (Skylight Paths, iBooks), Rabbi Rami Shapiro explains:

Do not imagine that the world to come is tied to a future time. The world to come is present here and now, if only you open yourself to it. Speak gently and cultivate humility, and the wonder will embrace you; you will see and live the world to come here and now. Thus Rabbi Hanokh says,
“Other nations too believe that there are two worlds. They too say: In the world to come. The difference is this: They think that the two worlds are separate and severed, but Israel professes that the two worlds are essentially one and shall in fact become one.”
The unity of this world and the world to come depends on you realizing your unity with all things in, with, and as God. This is what the Kotzker Rebbe tried to teach when he asked, “Where does God dwell?” Answering his own question, he said, “God dwells wherever you let God in.” God is everywhere and everything, but until you are open to God in this way, God’s infinity is blocked by the finitude of self.

So, what will we choose to see today?

Separateness, or Unity?

The finite, or the Infinite?

This world, or Olam Haba (“the world to come”)?

Just another day, or a day like no other??

The choice is ours to make.

Baruch HaShem.

Pharaoh & a Narrow Bridge

A few weeks ago, the Torah Portion was the story of the Ten Plagues and the Exodus from Egypt.  Much of the discussion at Torah study that weekend was about what it meant that G-d “hardened the heart of” Pharaoh.  Different people had different impressions, of course, about the what, how, and why of G-d hardening Pharaoh’s heart and, if so, why Pharaoh should receive any blame for his responses to Moses.

But what most resonated with me was how Pharaoh’s anger at Moses caused Pharaoh to be incapable of dealing more effectively, rationally, or productively with Moses’s desire to take the Hebrews out of Egypt to worship their G-d.  Pharaoh’s anger and arrogance caused him to be “stuck” … to be mentally immobile … to not be able to think logically “in the moment” … to be unable to compromise to reach a solution benefitting himself.

And … here’s where it gets interesting for a geek like me …

When one believes G-d (as Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey) is the very essence of Being in each moment … the Unfolding of Reality in time and space … the complete sum of everything that is and everything that is not … then … to be “stuck” — because we long to return to the past or because we fear what may come in the future — is to be “out-of-sync” with the unfolding essence of G-d, with reality as it exists at that very moment.

And “out-of-sync” is not a good feeling!!  It leaves us unsure about ourselves and about our place in “the story.”  When we feel that way, we become anxious and/or afraid.  Then, to cover our fear and/or anxiety, we rather instinctively respond with arrogance, anger, or feigned indifference and — just like Pharaoh — our response places us even more out-of-sync with The Unfolding Reality.

… and being more out-of-sync increases our fear …  resulting in more anger and arrogance … bringing another ineffective response … placing us more out-of-sync …

This cycle can repeat infinitely, leaving us spinning out-of-control and moving further away from The Unfolding Reality …

UNLESS we find the strength to stop the cycle by dropping our anger and arrogance (our defense mechanisms), so that we actually may address the source of the problem — OUR FEAR — and bring ourselves back into sync with The Unfolding Reality.

Perhaps this is why Rav Nachman said:  “All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is to have no fear at all.”  Only by standing on the narrow bridge and dealing honestly with our fears can we prevent our ego and its defense mechanisms from turning us into a modern-day Pharaoh by spinning us out of control away from The Unfolding Reality.

Only by standing on the narrow bridge do we have a chance of living in sync with The One.

“G-d in the closet”?!?!

I was sitting with my son, Zach, this week as he completed some pages in his Hebrew workbook.   We were talking about the words, and I was trying to make connections for him between the words and the ways in which we use those words in our Jewish practice.  One of the phrases he kept saying was “Aron Hakodesh”, which is the Holy Ark where the Torah is kept in the sanctuary.   Zach was very proud to tell me it literally means “holy closet,” because “aron” means “closet”.

Being the total geek that I am, I wondered about the spelling difference in Hebrew between aron (closet) & Aaron (brother of Moses and the first high priest of the Jewish people), so I did what any self-respecting Jewish geek would do — I opened the Torah App on my phone and looked for Aaron’s name!!!!    And here’s what I found:
The spelling of the two words is the same except Aaron gets the second “a” sound from insertion of a “hey” in the middle of the word.  And this was not the first time I had seen this idea — a “hey” inserted into a Hebrew word …
Before accepting the covenant with G-d, Abraham was Abram and Sarah was Sarai.

In fact, Professor Joel Hoffman claims the names of Abraham and Sarah were changed in the way they were (to include a “hey”) because it was one of the “magic letters” used in the four-letter name of the Hebrew G-d.  The letters were “magic” because they made Hebrew readable by everyone, not just scribes, and the Hebrews were the first to create an alphabet that included letters for vowels.  Hoffman also claims the special status of these vowel letters is why the G-d of the Hebrews was given the four-letter name consisting of these “magic letters” . . . a name that cannot be pronounced due to the simple fact that all the letters are vowels … but I digress!!  🙂

As further support for his claim that a “hey” was added to the names of Abraham and Sarah as a reminder, or sign, of the Hebrew G-d, Hoffman notes Elim, which is plural for god (“el”), became Elohim by addition of a “hey”, and Elohim is another name for the Hebrew G-d —  the One who takes the place of the many.

So using the logic that Abram became Abraham to signify insertion of G-d into his name  …

The first high priests’ name, Aaron, obviously means …

“G-d in the closet” ?!?!

… and the fact that my eight-year-old understands enough about Hebrew to really laugh at that joke made his laughter the sweetest sound I’ve heard in quite some time . . .  Baruch HaShem!