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