Return Again

(Cross-posted to The Last Trumpet)

Tshuva, translated as repentance but literally meaning “return,” is, on the cognitive level, simply a return to what the Buddhists call Right View, or in the words of the popular Neo-Hasidic song, the “Return to Who you are.” It’s the shuv of ratzo v’shuv, running and returning — coming back to the Source, the undifferentiated Awareness that somehow gives birth to the cosmos. Running out into differentiation, with (for all but the most awakened of us) all its traps and delusions — but then, at special times in the year, returning. And from that place of unity, reflecting on the actions of the small self, observing how they may have caused harm, and attempting to repair the harm by reconnecting with other people and with God. – Jay Michaelson Full story.

A king once wanted to test the faith and love of his subjects. So he chose one of his closest servants, dressed him up as a great king and sent him out to declare war against his subjects. When the servant appearing as king met the first group and declared war, they immediately prepared themselves for the battle. When he came to the second group, they said “Since he is such a great king, why should we fight?” Finally, the faux king traveled farther until he came to a town of sages. The sages inquired deeply, until they were able to see through the disguise. (Sefer Toledot Ya’aqov Yosef, Va-yaqhel, see Sefer Ba’al Shem Tov, Bereishit, 141).

The meaning is that serious challenges that confront us are essentially tests of our faith in the non-dual nature of reality and our love and devotion to the divine source. Whenever we face these tests, there are basically three ways of responding. The two conventional responses are either to be overwhelmed by the challenge and to capitulate without a fight or to attempt to combat the problem with the rigidity of “fight or flight” mode. Although both of these conventional responses may be the best that we can do at certain stages in our development, neither will aid us very much in our conscious quest to further evolve. The third mode of dealing with such tests is the way of the wise, who have cultivated judges and executors (see previous parashah). In this way, one neither avoids nor rushes into combat, but sees through and dissolves the shell of separation from Divine Presence with the gnostic eye of faith. – Reb Miles Krassen Full Story.

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First, a little background – at LimmudNY in ’06, my first dip into Jewish pluralism (and my first in-person connection to Jewschool), Chefitz made quite an impression. After we’d had an intense breakfast conversation about my possible future in the Rabbinate, I attended a workshop he was offering on Storytelling as a Mystical Discipline. Chefitz, who learned to tell stories from Carlebach, told stories through the four worlds, and I may have had my first serious mystical experience. The primary result was my enrolling in a course on Zohar taught by Arthur Green, the rector of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School, and a subsequent course on niggunim with Nehemia Polen, whose clearly had learned some of his love of niggunim from Reb Shlomo.

Back to the story – I shared Carlebach’s Gam Ki Eilech at NHC Shalosh seudos, which prompted Chefitz to tell Shlomo stories, and just before Havdallah, he explained to a small group of us that there were only three who came from pre-war Chassidism, had a deep understanding of the Jewish spiritual tradition, and had the chutzpah to share that openly with all of us maskilim: Those three were Shlomo, Zalman, and Heschel. Chefitz explained that in his mind, Hebrew College is maintaining that line – training Rabbis to carry on their legacy.

The following Shalosh seudos at Contemporary Kabbalah week at Elat Chayyim, Rabbi Miles Krassen, with whom I’d been studying The Future of Judaism & The Evolution of Consciousness all week, spoke about Elul and the process of Tshuvah. Check out his drash on the parsha for a taste of his style. Shabbos afternoon, at the culmination of a week of teaching, Reb Miles broke down the barrier between ego and Ein Sof – I’ve gotta say, it truly blew my mind. All week, we’d learned about the shift from a consciousness represented by the sefirah of Binah, which separates and differentiates (about orange/green in the spiral dynamics model) to Chochmah consciousness, a non-dual, integral way of being (2nd tier). Shabbos afternoon, as Reb Miles taught Likutei Moharan, I experienced for the first time what he had been talking about, if only for a brief moment.

I spent the better part of this last week (until I get sent home with poison ivy) singing with 130 teenagers at NFTY-NE Summer Institute (I tried to stay away from smooth jazz) – the organization that in my teenage years helped me understand the real power of music, and of the Jewish tradition. I served as a regional board member when I was in high school, and this summer a fellow board member and dear friend became regional director. All in all, four members of the nine-member board (and a member-by-marriage) were working to facilitate the retreat. Our advisor was also on faculty, and got to schep some more nachas (he already officiated at two of our weddings this summer). There was a sense of torch-passing, and I was thrilled to see the region finally in the hands of someone who remembers how much Torah we learned back in the day. The credit for our experiences goes to the individuals running the organization when we were members, but the movement provides the structure that made those experiences possible. For the past 11 years, NFTY-NE has been both my spiritual home and laboratory – and I get the feeling that many of these kids are tasting the next step in their evolution, and without that first taste, how can we know to want more?

At Shabbos dinner, I had a fascinating debate with a faculty member and Reform Rabbi on denominationalism and post-denominationalism, (it began as a conversation about the job prospects of the students in the Hebrew College Rabbinic program, to which I hope to apply in the near future primarily for the aforementioned reasons). In NFTY-NE I see room for growth (I suppose we can’t teach them to do everything), but I see sparks of holiness, and have faith in those guiding the region’s growth. In a non-dual world, that is to say if everything (and then some) is G!d, G!d is in the Reform movement too (and the other ones), at least for the time being. Judaism certainly has further to evolve, and I believe that denominationalism is resultant of Binah consciousness, that of separation and differentiation, and post-denominatiolism represents a step toward Chochmah, toward the unity that we acknowledge in the Sh’ma.

Reb Miles taught in the name of Rebbe Nachman that as we move to a higher madrega (level) there is always someone to step into our previous level. It is up to each of us to pass on each bit of soul-warming Torah, because once it’s stopped warming us, it’s ready to warm someone else, and that is how we will all grow together.

6 Responses to “Return Again”

  1. LastTrumpet:
    Dear LastTrumpet:

    Some of my best friends are affiliated with Hebrew College- really- but consider this: ALL the major American movements (Reform, Recon, Cons, at least) at one point considered themselves to be what we’d now call “transdenominational,” meaning, they thought of themselves as the framework for transcending differences in the American Jewish community and being “just Jewish.”

    Neo-hassidism is great stuff. It’s also most truly not the only path which can be called “the Jewish spiritual tradition,” and doesn’t work for everybody, by a long shot. (E.g, those who revere Soloveitchik and find his thoughts to be profoundly “spiritual” come from a different but no less holy place than the Shlomo/Zalman/Heschel wing of things.)

    It behooves us all to remember that one person’s evolution of consciousness is another person’s barrier to entry, and no one institution, minhag, philosophy, denomination, tradition or community is going to work for all the Jews who need a happy home.


    Neal · August 26th, 2007 at 6:50 pm
  2. ALL the major American movements (Reform, Recon, Cons, at least) at one point considered themselves to be what we’d now call “transdenominational,” meaning, they thought of themselves as the framework for transcending differences in the American Jewish community and being “just Jewish.”

    And Orthodox more than any of them!

    From the Jerusalem Post:
    ======
    “Chabad was and will always be non-denominational,” says Rabbi Hershy Zarchi, of Chabad of Cambridge, adjacent to Harvard’s campus. “We don’t identify Jews based on denominations, affiliations, degrees of observance. All Jews equally belong and have an equally essential role in writing the story.”
    ======


    BZ · August 26th, 2007 at 9:30 pm
  3. Actually BZ, I’d say that Chabad rabbi was engaging in deceptive advertising more than anything else. Sort of transparently, I might add.

    On the other hand, as I’ve heard it most succintly said, the (actual) typical Orthodox self-view is not trans- or post-denominational, but PRE-denominational.


    chillul Who? · August 26th, 2007 at 11:44 pm
  4. “G!d”? Give me a break. What’s going to come next? éä!ä?


    Amit · August 27th, 2007 at 8:44 am
  5. We don’t identify Jews based on denominations, affiliations, degrees of observance. All Jews equally belong and have an equally essential role in writing the story.
    That is, they should all become closer to chabad, and write the story of how chabad took over monotheist Judaism.


    Amit · August 27th, 2007 at 9:11 am
  6. I hope your beard feels better soon! Have a wonderful time in the holy land, but please, PLEASE, come back and visit nfty eventually?


    B.Shev · August 29th, 2007 at 8:55 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik