Sunday, December 25, 2011

Joseph and Judah: The Royalty of God's Love

Our Sages compare Joseph and Judah based on their individual experiences before and after Joseph estrangement from his family, and on the blessings that Jacob and Moses bestowed for them as Tribes of Israel. They indicate that Joseph represents the inner relationship we have with the Creator, and Judah the material manifestation of this relationship. In that sense both brothers are the two sides of the same coin as specific aspects of a common royal identity, and understanding royalty as the highest awareness with which we must relate to God. Our inner relationship with Him is the most sacred connection we can ever conceive, and is the primordial foundation that supports our approach to His Creation vis-à-vis the material reality where we live and relate with our fellow man.

We have mentioned that our Sages regard Jacob and Joseph as reflections of one another, as if they were the same person, based on similarities both had in common that the other brothers didn't share with Jacob. They also remark that such similarities resulted from their higher awareness of the Creator, and consequently their closer connection to Him. This is the context in which some of our Sages are called tzadikim (righteous), because that level of consciousness and demeanor is achieved only when we live every moment in close relationship with God's ways and attributes. That's why Joseph was chosen to save his family during the time of famine and protect them in the first stage of their exile in Egypt. Jacob made public his preference for Joseph not to instigate hatred and jealousy in his other sons against his "chosen" one, but to make him an example for them to follow. They didn't accept Joseph such as, neither his presumed royal destiny revealed in his dreams. We must recall again the episode of Cain and Abel to illustrate that hatred and jealousy eventually lead to murder. The difference between that story and this one is that, unlike God's dialogue with Cain to amend his negative attitude towards Him and Abel, Jacob apparently did not encourage his sons to recognize Joseph's qualities and follow his example.

We must know and emulate the qualities of such characters that make them worthy of becoming God's vessels or "chariots" to entirely fulfill His ways and execute His attributes. One unambiguous signal pointed out in the Hebrew Scriptures is that when God is with us, we become a blessing for those around us. We have to reiterate that first we must be with Him in order to become aware of His Presence in our life. Thus we are able to realize that the blessings that others experience when touched by us, or by being around us, are actually God's blessings and not ours. We are simply the vessels as messengers of His Love, and our Love also becomes the means to convey His blessings. It is important to remark here that the blessings are such as long as they benefit everyone. God's Love is not limited to some or excludes others, and is not only for us as individuals because His Love pervades all His Creation.

This principle is hard to assimilate when our consciousness is under the mistaken conception that it is a separate part of Creation, as a result of its false estrangement from the Creator. This is an erroneous idea that confounds our discernment when we lose the perspective of darkness and evil as plain references to pursue Light and Love. This confusion is typical of non-Judaic conceptions that good and evil are separate entities in constant conflict to prevail over one another, and that both "act" as separated and confronted "forces" or "gods" under which humans are helpless puppets, and ultimately victims of their whims. Those conceptions are regarded by Judaism as idolatry, as well as the generalized belief that humans are estranged entities in a world where "everyone's by himself", justifying exploitation, discrimination, segregation, exclusion, and slavery on the grounds that there are inferior and superior peoples, better and worse, perfect and imperfect, in different levels and categories. Under these grounds the relative conceptions that some value as social, cultural, educational, political, economical and moralistic patterns or systems, define the levels of the pyramidal model within which most nations approach human life in this world.

The blessings of God's Love do not fall into that model because they are not "filtered" through levels and categories from particular views, conceptions and beliefs that oppose Love's all encompassing, all including, and all pervading ways and means. Love as our Essence and as reflection of God's Love does not have limits or borders, and is not conditioned to individualistic interests. We can't love a selected few in detriment of others, and we can't love someone at the expense of another. This reminds us the Nazi butchers who tortured and murdered millions of Jews in their utmost hatred while embracing and kissing their spouses, children and friends, arguing that there was no relation between ruthlessly murdering people and loving their families. We still see people hating some while "loving" others. We must reconsider the way we conceive "love", particularly when it has become subservient to material fantasies and illusions, egotistic interests, and consumer society's values. Our Love of God is the same Love that we manifest to our fellow man, and the Torah teaches that when we love God we are compelled to love our fellow man.

When we love as Joseph loved his brothers, we preserve the encompassing unity that Love is, and Redemption follows. In order to achieve that kind of Love, first we build our inner relationship with God's Love as Joseph did, as a paradigm of Israel. In this inner building process we have to refine our individual traits and qualities as part of all levels of consciousness, by following God's ways and emulating His attributes. Refinement is a defining characteristic of royalty, and we learn it from the Creator and King of everything, our God. In the context of Judaism, Judah is destined to royalty as the material manifestation of God's Kingdom in this world. Joseph as king is our Love in the inner relationship with God and Judah as king in our outer relationship with Him; understanding outer as the material manifestation of our Love of God.

Joseph is entitled to royalty in his inner relationship with God, and Judah is entitled to royalty by proclaim God's Kingdom on Earth. As we said earlier, both royalties are part of the same majestic unity that we must achieve to honor God's Presence in the material world. This unity is achieved by strengthening our inner connection with the Creator, through our Love for Him, which means following His ways and attributes; and in this strength we will be able to manifest them in what we do. As our Sages point out, Joseph and Judah are the two levels of the true royalty that our inner Love and outer Love are as faithful manifestations of God's Love in His Creation. We learn that spirit and matter are parts of the unity that life is, and both work together as Love and through Love for the purpose of Love in all aspects of consciousness, with the common mission to honor God's Love as our Essence and identity.

Vayigash: Living in God's Will

Regardless what we may believe or be certain about as part of God's Creation, our lives belong to His will. There's an endless debate around this Fundamental Principle of Judaism in regards to free will. If we ultimately fulfill God's will regardless the choices we make, do we really have free will? The answer is yes because our choices, either be “right” or “wrong”, ultimately lead us to the Truth of who we really are and our mission in this world. In other words, making positive or negative choices makes us aware of them by their results, from which we learn to make the next choice. This means that ultimately sooner o later we will end up doing the right thing. Then it is up to us to either learn through positive or negative experiences. We have said before that Judaism considers evil as a negative reference to be avoided, and in the worst case scenario to learn form; and not to live for because we are not born to be masochists. Regrettably, most of us in this world may not have it clear enough, and to prove it we just need to take a look around.

We must reflect thoroughly about God's Creation and realize that it is far bigger than ego's pretension to make us believe that we are gods in our material fantasies, desires and illusions. Once we get humble enough it may be possible to accept God's will and not ours. It took King David's whole life and the 150 chapters of his Psalms to realize this, and is one of the main lessons we learn from the story of Joseph and his brothers: “But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you.” (Genesis 45:5) and His will is indeed His Love for His Creation to sustain it every moment for the sake of the goodness that life is: “(…) And God sent me before you to make for you a remnant in the land, and to live for a great deliverance.” (45:7).

In our awareness of God's Love there is always a land to sustain life, as our means to pursue our deliverance when the material reality does not provide for our essential needs. We face famine not only when the land does not provide for our sustenance, but also when the material world (also a “land”) does not offer us true spiritual fulfillment in the illusions we create from our “individual” reality.

Here we understand that ego (Pharaoh) must be directed by the discernment and wisdom with which Love (Joseph) approaches God's Creation as an emanation of His Love: “And now, you did not send me here but God and He made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord over his entire household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt.” (45:8)

We have learned from these passages of the Torah that Joseph is the epitome of Love ever since he was chosen by Israel to be his firstborn, and Love's attributes led him to ascend as the destined guide of all levels and dimensions of consciousness, ego included. Love's greatest and most formidable challenge is to direct our awareness amid the hardships of the material world. These difficulties range from the adversity of natural phenomena to the negative aspects of thought, emotions, feelings, passions and instincts.

Our Sages tell us that hatred against Hebrews, hostility, aggressiveness, depravity and immorality were the main traits of the ancient Egyptians, and coming down to them was a threat for people with opposite qualities. Israel and his children knew this in spite of Joseph ascent to power. In such predicament Israel prays to the Creator, and His Love answers: “I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up, and Joseph will place his hand on your eyes.” (46:4).

This verse reminds us to be mindful about His will. Our Sages teach that living in the darkness of a negative consciousness (Egypt) is the premise to recognize the Light of Redemption. In this sense, as we mentioned above, our negative choices sooner or later lead us to discern positive from negative, right from wrong, useful from useless. In this process we have to know who we are, from where we come, and the destiny that we are commanded to fulfill: “And Pharaoh said to his brothers, 'What is your occupation?' And they said to Pharaoh, 'Your servants are shepherds, both we and our forefathers'.” (47:3).

The children of Israel are descendants of people who were commanded by their God to lead as “the Light for the nations” those in need of positive guidance. This Commandment is an abomination among peoples whose traits are far from positive. Let's bear in mind that anti-Semitism and Judeophobia are as ancient as Judaism, and the defamers of Jews are those who opposed the ethical principles that sustain and promote moral freedom in all levels of consciousness. In its quest and history, Judaism's existence reflects our Patriarch Israel's life: “The days of the years of my life have been few and miserable [lit. evil], and they have not reached the days of the years of the lives of my forefathers in the days of their sojourning.” (47:9).

Only in our relentlessness will we be able to fulfill our destiny, no matter how negative and adverse may be the illusions of the material world: “And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen, and they acquired property in it, and they were prolific and multiplied greatly.” (47:27). We did it in Egypt and we have done throughout history with God's Presence among us. Even if most of our days and years have been amid evil, God's Love never abandons us. With our Love we will also reach out to our Final Redemption, which is also everyone's Redemption.

Then we will reach the days of the years of our forefathers: “And I will form a Covenant of Peace for them [Israel], an everlasting Covenant shall be with them; and I will establish them and I will multiply them, and I will place My Sanctuary in their midst forever. And My dwelling place shall be over them, and I will be to them for a God, and they shall be to Me as a people.” (Ezekiel 37:26-27) and for us this prophecy is fulfilled when we as Israel meet His will, which is the ways and attributes of God's Love.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hanukah and the Light of Redemption

Let's reflect on two things that are apparently unrelated but their common denominator is that both challenge our understanding. One is the first Commandment that the Creator gives to Israel in its birth as a Nation, the consecration of the New Moon as the beginning of the months, and Nissan as the first of them in which Israel's freedom began. The other is Final Redemption as predicted by our Prophets.

We may question why we start the months with the New Moon and not with the Full Moon, by arguing that we can begin with fully revealed light and end also with full light after fading into darkness and later emerging to total brightness. However, our Creator commands us to start the months when the Moon is completely dark. Sages of the Chassidic tradition teach us one of the most complex principles related to this matter, and we must break the limits of discernment to fully assimilate it. Actually, it is one of the many Jewish mystic principles that we can only grasp beyond human understanding, such as concentric circles or spheres that at the same time are separated from each other. How can they separate if they are contained within each other? This is an example to guide our mind to assimilate beyond its limits of reasoning. The principle that Chassidim bring up is that concealed light is more powerful or intense than revealed light, based on the premise that what we don't know or are about to know is more important than what we already know. Algebra is more useful than Arithmetic, Calculus is more important than Trigonometry, and the less relevant is the basic knowledge to assimilate the most relevant. Hence, what we are about to know is more transcendent than what we already know.

Likewise, we are taught in Elementary School that the light of the sun becomes more intense during a total eclipse, and we must not watch it because the stronger light may damage our eyes. This occurrence may not explain clearly how is it possible that there is more light from an eclipsed sun than a normal sun, for in our sight there is more light in the normal sun. Astrophysics may explain the issue but still in our eyes we perceive it differently. Quantum physics also explains parallel planes and other phenomena that a simple mind can't understand, and we either believe it or not. All these references invite us to expand our simple minds beyond their presumed borders, and in this regard our ancient Sages knew better and explain that the New Moon is the non-revealed light that we are commanded to reveal. This means that we as individuals are moons whose light are partially revealed, and we are to become aware of our full light when there is apparently none. They consequently say that in darkness we look for the Light because in darkness it is concealed with all its intensity, as we have never seen it before as the light that we already know. This is why they say that in the darkness of exile we must reveal the Light of Redemption. In this sense darkness as exile is the precondition to Light as Redemption.

How do we know that in our darkest moments the most powerful Light is concealed? We can simply say that darkness is what it is, and light is just absent in it. The problem is that with this approach there is no chance for Redemption. This brings us to reflect in a broader understanding, starting with who we are, what we are, and what is our true Essence and identity. In the dynamics of identity we solve all our confusions, and we begin with the "reason" of the entire Creation, its cause and effect, and the Creator behind it. He is the intense Light "concealed" behind what we see eclipsed or dark with our eyes, the New Moon that we are commanded to consecrate as the beginning of the months, as the beginning of everything.

Exile as darkness is the current state of affairs that we suffer when we choose to live under the negative aspects of consciousness that impose individual interests at the expense of the collective well being. Our oral tradition tells that in the plague of darkness prior to the Exodus from Egypt, four fifths of the Israelite people died because they couldn't "see" beyond their own personal material interests. Only 20% chose to look after each other amid the darkest circumstances, by loving each other and caring for each other. Only those were later exempt from the final plague of the firstborn and taken out from their slavery in Egypt. From them we must learn that Love is our true and only Redeemer when we live in the darkness of ego's fantasies and illusions. God's Love is the hidden Light that creates and sustains His Creation, as our Love is also the concealed Light that sustains us and liberates us from our darkest moments. Every negative situation that we face is dissipated when Love manifests fully as the most intense Light behind darkness.

Maimonides quotes the words of the Prophet (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 12:5): "In those times there will be no famine or war, envy or rivalry; for goodness will flow in abundance and delights will be freely available. Everyone will be totally engaged in the knowledge of God, as it is written: 'For the Earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea' (Isaiah 11:9)'." Can we expand our mind and consciousness to be able to conceive the material world without hunger, conflicts, greed, coveting, jealousy, lust, indolence and hatred? Maimonides follows up with goodness in abundance as the answer, and all goodness come from Love. He also points out the cause of the goodness in his next sentence, because our goodness is the result of our total engagement in the knowledge of the Creator.

Now we may be able to discern the connection between the consecration of the New Moon and our Final Redemption. Let's summarize: Darkness as exile leads us to freedom as Redemption when we are guided by the strong Hand of the Creator, which is His Love, and we emulate Him with our Love for each other. The New Moon is the remembrance that unrevealed Light is more powerful than revealed Light, hence we are commanded and compelled to acknowledge that God's Love precedes His Creation. We overcome darkness as the negative aspects of consciousness when we enthrone Love as the Light that clears negativity through the goodness of Love's ways and attributes. Finally, we live in abundant goodness when we engage completely in the knowledge of God's Love as the cause and effect of His Creation, and also as our true Essence and identity.

In Hanukah we light up eight candles in the darkest days of the year around the Winter solstice. We learned that in the darkest moments the most intense Light is waiting to revealed, and that is the Light of Redemption. We reveal this Light in each of the seven days that represent God's Creation of Heaven and Earth, plus an additional eighth day that symbolizes our permanent unity with Him, in which the ultimate Redemption takes place, the day when it is completely revealed with all the intensity of His Light.

We can conclude that our limited intellect and discernment still can't grasp how light may be concealed in darkness, but one thing we can assimilate without difficulty and it is Love as the most powerful Light capable to transform anything negative into something good, because Love is the source of goodness, as God's Love is the source of His Creation and the sustenance of all life. The New Moon and Hanukah are reminders that we have to enlighten our lives every day until we reach out to the day when our Light and God's Light become One, and our Love and His Love are One. This is the moment when we are totally engaged in knowing our Creator.

Mikeitz: God is with Us

“And Joseph said to Pharaoh, 'Pharaoh's dream is one; what God is doing He has told Pharaoh'.”, “(…) 'It is this matter that I have spoken to Pharaoh; what God is about to do He has shown Pharaoh'.” (Genesis 41:25, 28)

God sustains and controls His entire creation, and He executes His doings. He tells the driving force in human consciousness (ego) that He is really in charge, and the messenger of this principle is Joseph as the epitome of love in all levels of consciousness. Joseph as the one able to manifest God's love in the material world.

“And Joseph replied to Pharaoh, saying, 'Not I; God will give an answer [that will bring] peace to Pharaoh'.” (41:16)

Peace is the result of love as the harmonizing and galvanizing fire that unifies all levels and dimensions of consciousness, ego included.

This is the only episode of our history in which a powerful ruling character [Pharaoh] is virtually submitted to someone clearly superior [Joseph] in traits and qualities destined to save and feed millions of lives.

“So Pharaoh said to his servants, 'Will we find [anyone] like this, a man in whom there is the Spirit of God?' Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Since God has let you know all this, there is no one as understanding and wise as you'.” (41:38-39)

In these words we see that Joseph is not only a righteous, discerning and capable man but even more, because the Spirit of God is with him and He lets him know. We are reminded three times in Vayeishev that “the Lord was with him” (39:3, 21, and 23).

This makes us reflect on what is the meaning of God being with us. It may sound arrogant to say it in that way, because it is really us who suppose to be with Him. From this we deduce that Joseph was indeed following God's ways and attributes, to be rewarded by the Torah's words saying that God was with him. That's the dynamics of our relationship with the Creator, by which we explain His “jealousy”, “wrath” and “vindictiveness” as indications of His exclusivity for us.

We can't relate to God when we don't follow His ways and attributes. As long as we follow ego's materialistic desires and illusions we are making the choice to separate from the path He wants for us. In this sense, our choice imposes its vengeance and wrath on us as direct consequences of our negative behavior.

Joseph's good actions brought goodness to the people around him, because goodness generates goodness, and his actions were inspired by his love for the Creator. Joseph's love led him to do goodness, and his love reached out to God's love. This is how we have God's love with us. Joseph is the true epitome of love as the ways and means to harmonically lead all aspects of consciousness.

“You shall be over my household, and through your command all my people shall be nourished; only [with] the throne will I be greater than you.” (41:40)

It was probably not an easy task to impose the decency of love's ways and attributes in a land distinguished by depravity and immorality, according to our oral tradition. It is hard to imagine that a righteous foreigner and slave could have ascended to prominence and power among people whose traits are the opposite of righteousness. Hence, the Torah repeats that God was with Joseph to explain that doing the right thing creates miracles. We learn from this that anything is possible when we walk with God's love.

Joseph's goodness was a blessing for those around him, fulfilling God's promise to Abraham that his seed (Israel) would be a blessing for all peoples. The blessing is the goodness of love when we live in its ways and practice its attributes, no matter how dark and depraved our circumstances may be, as it is written.

“And the second [son] one he [Joseph] named Ephraim, because 'God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction'.” (41:52)

We expect that only in positive circumstances our good actions will flourish, yet when we entirely trust God in any situation our goodness fructifies.

We have said that true redemption is available for anyone who is willing to reach out to it, regardless his/her condition. As long as there is free will and freedom to choose, we can choose redemption over estrangement.

Only when we lose our discernment to determine if we have or not free will, we are unable to choose our return to love. It takes great courage to be constantly aware of God's love as our essence and true identity, and our source of life and total freedom.

Where do we go when we want to really live in this material world? To the goodness of love as the material manifestation of God's love, and love will tell us what to do. Even an ego open to learn from love also knows what to do.

“When the entire land of Egypt hungered, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread, but Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, 'Go to Joseph; what he tells you, you do'.” (41:55)

The Prophet also reminds us this.

“(…) for they saw that the wisdom of God was within him to do justice. So, King Solomon was king over all Israel.” (I Kings 3:28, 4:1)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Vayeishev: Israel as the Firstborn

Vayeishev is the first of the last four portions of the book of Genesis, in which the main character is Joseph. There are extensive and intensive debates about the stories told in these portions, because their intricacies shaped the destiny of Israel as a people and as a Nation. These debates among our Sages are mostly centered in the relationship between Joseph and his brothers, and why the events occurred the way they did. The general conclusion is that, no matter how such events happened and their ethical and moral implications, they occurred according to God's will. We all agree on this because it is one of the Fundamental Principles of Judaism, and there are no “buts for them.

The events happened to teach us that the free will the Creator gives us, along with individual discernment and the Torah, are intended to make positive choices to honor His ways and attributes as the common likeness between us and Him. Israel's children indeed knew better under the teachings and guidance of their father. Dealing with lower emotions and passions such as hatred, envy and jealousy, is something that we all must face with the best of our ethical knowledge (Torah learning) and discernment in order to truly exercise our free will.

We have said that the negative aspects of thoughts, emotions, feelings, passion, and instinct are represented by the “nations” we must conquer, eliminate and subjugate through our higher awareness of God's Love as our Essence and true identity.

The Torah tells us that our forefathers were not perfect, and they came to be a Nation under the guidance of the Creator by following His will. This is the “perfection” of Israel as we pursue to be good human beings, according to what the Creator defines for us as good. This definition is widely explained in His Torah, and reaffirmed in God's attributes of compassion (Exodus 34:6-7).

Discernment was the least of qualities in the development of events between Joseph and his brothers, and there was no clear and direct communication for the sake of the truth. We learn from this that jealousy and envy lead to hatred, and hatred can lead to murder. The same predicament goes for greed, lust, indolence, impatience, cruelty and their derivatives (see in this blog our commentary “Conquering the 'nations' with Love” of June 26, 2010).

Let's reflect on the Torah's narrative based on our Sages' debates and conclusions. “These are the generations of Jacob: Joseph (...)” (Genesis 37:2) Joseph is all the descendants of Jacob as the prototype for Israel, because he personifies the qualities that Jacob want for his children. These qualities must rule over the remaining traits of consciousness.

In every circumstance experienced by Joseph, he was a ruler (in the house of Potiphar, in the prison where he remained 12 years, in the house of Pharaoh, and over the land of Egypt) as this was predicted in his dreams before he was sold as a slave by his brothers. The controversy over the destined kingship of Judah as one of the reasons to murder Joseph to end his “ruler dreams” must be cleared up under a different perspective. If Joseph is Israel, all the Tribes must conduct themselves under his traits and qualities, either be priests, kings, warriors, scholars, judges, artists, etc. because of what Joseph represents.

We are reminded about the similarities that only Jacob and Joseph shared in their lives and experiences, for us to understand that their physical resemblance was not the only thing that made them equal to each other. This is also the reason why Jacob considered Joseph's sons his own, and made them into two Tribes. In this sense we understand Joseph as the Firstborn of Israel: “And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons” (37:3), “And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers” (37:4), “So his brothers envied him.” (37:11).

These verses make us recall the episode of Cain and Abel, and also the dialogue between the Creator and Cain that teaches us to strive to be better, particularly when we are destined to be the Firstborn. As Israel, we are destined to be the Light for the nations, a Nation of priests, and a Holy People simply because our Creator is Holy. If we chose to be the heirs of His ways and attributes, we have to be and manifest them in order to honor our heritage. We don't do it by being envious, jealous, coveting or greedy, neither with cruelty, hatred and negative traits that murder Love's ways and attributes.

We must discern about right and wrong, true and false, useful and useless, and choose Love because that is the legacy of the Creator, tangible and experienced in all His Creation. Our job is to dissipate the darkness we have created in our material reality, and replace it with the original Light with which the world was made. This Light is God's Love, and as our Essence we must make it prevail.

Our Sages say that Jacob loved Joseph with this kind of Love: “Love is strong as death” (Song of Songs 8:6), and that his brothers envied him as “Envy is harsh as the grave” (8:6) then, the Sages ask: What can Love achieve in the face of envy? From this we realize what leads to life and what leads to death; what leads to Light and what leads to darkness.

We know that in the future, which is today, Judah is Israel and this is why we are called Jews. As Jews we fulfill the destiny that the Creator decreed for us in order to proclaim His Kingdom: “For Judah prevailed over [from] his brothers, and the prince comes from him, but the birthright is Joseph's.” (I Chronicles 5:2).

As Judah we are the crown and the scepter to enthrone the Creator, being aware that Joseph is Israel's essence as our true identity. We can't fulfill our destiny as a people and as a Nation without honoring our Creator.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Vayishlach: The Prevalence of Love

We continue in Vayishlach with our line of thought from Vayeitzei regarding angels as the epitomes of Love, also as the ways and means to life and the material world, as well as to our relationship with the Creator: “Jacob sent angels ahead of him to his brother Esau, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom.” (Genesis 32:4) because it is through Love that we conceive and approach everything, as the material manifestation of God's Love. This includes negative circumstances that challenge our determination to make goodness prevail in the midst of adversity. This also implies that we must take a practical approach to negative and potentially harming situations and people, as Jacob did when he met Esau twenty years after parting from each other at the verge of fatal confrontation. Esau, Seir and Edom are synonyms of the same emotional traits that make us act with a negative approach to material reality. These oppose the approach represented by Jacob's qualities.

The verse refers to Esau as a space (land, field) in consciousness that we must draw near with the best traits and qualities endowed with Love as our Essence and true identity. These are the angels as messengers which we also send to the Creator when we want to be close to Him. This land by definition is hostile to Love's attributes because it is a field of consciousness that does not discern, listen or understand according to intellect but to negative emotions, passion and instinct. As we said about Vayeitzei, there are Heaven and Earth as two apparent separate camps that are actually one, and Israel's mission is to unify them in our individual and collective consciousness. This is how we turn the material world into a place for the Divine Presence to dwell among (in) us.

When our ordeals or fears overwhelm us, we tend to feel divided and separated from the camp of God's Love: “(…) now I have become two camps. Now deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him, lest he come and strike me (…)” (32:11-12) because we feel abandoned in our doubts and uncertainties regarding the strength we need in order to make Love's ways prevail over the apparent power of ego's desires and illusions.

Ego does not have any power unless we provide it. Hence it depends on us to empower either aspect of consciousness toward the right purpose. We know quite well that our mission is not easy, and history reminds us this. Most of our ancestors failed or died in their endeavor to sanctify God's Name and to honor His will. We must understand that such mission carries difficult battles that start first within our individual consciousness.

We have to be not only willing but ready for a lengthy struggle to subdue the messenger of doom that our Sages call “the angel of Esau”. This battle eventually will be won, but victory also demands eternal vigilance to secure Love's attributes as the ruling means to redeem the material world from the darkness of ego's negative illusions.

We prevail in that struggle guided by the highest awareness of our connection to God's Love, which in return elevates us closer to Him. “And he [Esau's angel] said, 'your name shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevailed'.” (32:29), “God said to him, 'Your name is Jacob. Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.' And He named him Israel.” (35:10)

The name Israel is composed of one specific imperative quality complemented with God's will or submitted to Him. Either way, this name represents a unifying bond with the Creator. Jacob's prevailing determination to subdue the negative aspects of human consciousness -- represented by Esau's angel -- turns Jacob into a commanding and ruling power sustained by God.

Obscure translations define Israel as “the one who struggles with God”, based on the fact that Jacob fought with one of His angels. We must clarify that Israel's struggles are destined to fulfill God's will through His Commandments, in order to dissipate the negative aspects of our consciousness when we approach the material world. We fulfill God's will by emulating His attribute of abundant loving kindness (rav chesed) with which His Creation is sustained.

When we approach everything in time and space with His Love and ours, Love prevails: “And Esau ran toward him and embraced him, and he fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” (33:4) Rashi quotes Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai saying that, in spite of the widely known belief that Esau hated Jacob, at that time his compassion was moved and he kissed him with all his heart, because Love always prevails. When we trust and honor Love as our true Essence and identity, we proclaim God's Love as His Glory that pervades His Creation: “There he [Israel] erected an altar, and he named it 'God is the God of Israel'.” (33:20)

Our Sages say that Jacob built this altar in gratitude to the Creator for saving his life during his encounter with Esau, which he considered a miracle because when His Love is manifest through our loving actions, all we experience moment to moment is a miracle: “Make Your face to shine upon Your servant; save me in Your loving kindness. (…) Blessed be the Lord, for He has shown me His wondrous loving kindness in an entrenched city [adversity].” (Psalms 31:17, 22)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Vayeitzei: The House of God's Love

One of the essential passages of the Torah related to Israel is, “And he dreamed, and behold! A ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to Heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.” (Genesis 28:12) and “This is none other than the House of God [Bet-El], and this is the gate of Heaven.” (28:17). It is about a place in time and space that comprises our connection with the Creator, and exists permanently in the highest levels of consciousness. It is where we realize the bond that holds the unity of Heaven and Earth, the spiritual and material dimensions of God's Creation. In this awareness Jacob as Israel realizes his Oneness with the Creator.

We have to know this House where God's Love gives lodge to Israel in the journey to fulfill his destiny as the People of the Covenant. The Torah tells us that Jacob dreamed, which means that Israel's awareness of God's Presence is beyond conscious material perception. However, there is a ladder set on our material consciousness (our “stepping ground”), that its top reaches up to the highest levels we are able to conceive. In this ladder angels (messengers) of God ascend and descend upon it, and let's inquire about who these messengers are.

The Torah indicates that angels' function is to fulfill God's will in the diverse dimensions of His Creation, and some of our Sages define them as the Commandments that we perform as part of His Will. Others define them as the souls that descend from His heavenly dwellings to the material world, and ascend back to Him. We can say that angels are, in some extent, the ways we communicate with the Creator. They descend as the messages of His will to us, and they return as our messages to Him.

We are taught that angels perform their missions without questioning them because they don't have free will. How come we dare to question God's will out of the free will He gave us? We have mentioned many times that our free will is the living proof of God's unconditional Love to us. Hence the least we must do is to reciprocate that privilege by complying with what He wants from us. Still, it is our choice. Jacob was fully aware of this, and his choice is unambiguous because he knows that His personal integrity depends on his service to God, after having the greatest honor to dwell in His House.

Angels are mentioned at the beginning and at the end of Vayeitzei, and this recurrence means a lot to us because they appear as heralds announcing points of convergence between Heaven and Earth. In this sense, the Temple of Jerusalem is the fundamental link that unites both levels, also as our highest awareness of God's Love. This is, as Jacob says, “The House of God and the gate of Heaven”. Though it sounds that there is a separation from here and there, the realization of Bet-El becomes our awareness of the unity between both.

Angels are the messengers and the messages we have to convey in our communication with the Creator, and these are our common Essence with Him. In this context, angels are the manifestation of His Love to us, and when we live in Love's ways and attributes our positive actions are the messengers and messages we elevate to Him to reciprocate the Love that He bestows on us.

There are two defined “camps” we know as the spiritual and the material. Both are meant to meet, embrace and kiss each other when we honor God's attributes as our true Essence and identity, also as our ways and means to connect and relate to God's Love. Walking in His Commandments is the way we go in the material world, and in our way we meet His Love: “And Jacob went on his way, and angels of God met him. And Jacob said when he saw them, 'This is the camp of God,' and he named the place Mahanaim.” (32:2-3)

We know that there are two camps, mahanaim, and Jacob turned them into one because he is aware that ultimately there is only one, the camp of God. We have to achieve this final realization, but first we must place our heads on the rocks that encompass every aspect of consciousness. God's Love turn them into one stone where the ladder of our Love stands to reach out to Him, and where our Love and His Love ascend and descend to unify Heaven and Earth. As we have said many times, Love is the messenger and the message, its own cause and effect. God's Love is manifest as the cause and effect of His Creation.

We just need to realize this as Jacob did, as his greatest legacy for Israel, his descendants: "In Bet-El he [Jacob, Israel] finds Him, and there He shall speak with us. And the Lord is the God of the hosts; the Lord is His Name. And you shall return to your God: [by] keeping loving kindness and justice, and trusting in your God always." (Hosea 12:5-7)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Toldot: Unifying Consciousness

Consciousness involves different aspects, levels and dimensions that, if we are no able to integrate as a harmonized and functioning unity, we may have difficulties to face the material world. Most people can't achieve such harmonized unity because it is not easy to conciliate mind with emotions, discernment with passion, or feelings with instincts. It becomes even more difficult when ego's desires and illusions occupy most aspects of consciousness. Sometimes life is reduced to a field of an endless battle among the elements that comprise human consciousness.

And the children struggled within her” (Genesis 25:22) Rashi comments on this verse saying that they were fighting over the inheritance of both Heaven and Earth. We understand this in the context of their adult life when ultimately Jacob wins the blessings that make him the inheritor of both. It seems that the fight with his brother is for all or nothing, as indeed was. The struggle of Esau and Jacob begins even before they were born, which makes us reflect on the deeper meanings the twin brothers encompass. It is evident that they oppose each other because they have different views about the material world (Earth) and the World to Come (Heaven).

We can infer from this fight about “all or nothing” that “all” implies a unity, something in its totality. Hence, Heaven and Earth are the two parts of the wholeness that the brothers were fighting for. This is an essential premise to assimilate that there is no separation in God's Creation or in our consciousness; even if we know that different aspects, levels and dimensions are part of them. This helps us understand why, without a developed consciousness, the twins were struggling in their mother's womb for inheriting the blessings of the entire Creation. Our awareness of unity is easier to grasp from a spiritual awareness than from a material perspective.

And the Lord said to her, 'Two nations are in your womb, and two kingdoms will separate from your innards, and one kingdom will become mightier than the other kingdom, and the elder will serve the younger'.” (25:23) Separation and opposition set the tone for two different conceptions and approaches to God's Creation. They are not meant to compromise with each other, except for the Divine decree that one has to serve the other.

Here is the key that makes us assimilate what we indicated before. In order for one to inherit both worlds, the other consequently must serve him. In other words, we prevail in a conflict if the opposite part agrees to our views and cooperate with us. We achieve a functioning, harmonizing unity when all the parts involved are integrated in a common cause, in which all win and there are no losers.

This means that if we face a situation that is either “black” or “white”, we don't look for the “gray” to reconcile the opposites but we engage in a discerning process to bring the goodness of “positive” into the badness of “negative”. Once we all experience “positive”, we all abandon “negative” by our individual and collective experience of what is right and wrong, true and false, etc. We have said that good and evil are references to exercise our free will, and by our experience of both we make our choices.

In this sense we discern what we call a functioning, working, harmonizing unity when we deal with the wholeness of our consciousness. We realize that every aspect of it must work in a common direction in order to experience life in the material world as a reflection of life in the World to Come. This is how we win in our struggle to inherit the blessings of both worlds.

It is indeed a struggle, a moment to moment endeavor to make prevail the positive over the negative, good over evil, useful over useless. This is the legacy Jacob embraced even before he was born, fighting all his life to make Truth prevail, and it is also the legacy for his descendants called by his prevailing name, Israel.

We have to rectify our divided awareness of the material world by unifying our divided consciousness, and this task may take many lifetimes. We are aware of this when we review our Jewish history since Abraham and Sara. So many falls in our endeavors during slavery, long exiles, endless persecutions, and tireless struggles. Jacob as Israel is destined to fulfill the Creator's Will to make the material world a dwelling place for Him, so that He may live among (in) us. Thus we unite this world and the World to Come as the indivisible Oneness of His Creation.

In this process we must know who Esau is and who Jacob is. The Torah defines for us who is who, and the bearer of God's blessings. Love and goodness win the struggle because hatred and evil are destined to surrender to Love and goodness, as the prevailing qualities that unify Heavens and Earth, as parts of the Creation emanated from God's Love.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chayei Sarah: The Jewish Identity

One of the most profound statements by Abraham recorded in the Torah is “I am a foreigner and a resident with you.” (Genesis 23:4). We have to understand it, not only as a gesture of Abraham's humbleness towards his neighbors, but as a characterization of the Jew based on his relationship with the Creator, in regards to the material world.

Our identity as Jews is broadly defined in the Torah as the Chosen People, and Abraham's neighbors recognized him as the seed of the great Nation whose mission is to be God's People.

“Hear us, my lord: You are a prince of God in our midst.” (23:6)

We must consider our identity, not only as a definition by the most important Testimony ever written, but as a meaning for us as Jews. Both “foreigner” and “resident” seem to complement each other in the context of living or dwelling in a particular place, but we must see them in relation to our identity defined according to our bond with God.

This bond consequently makes us foreigners in any place where God's Presence has not been totally revealed. We are foreigners in the sense that we are entitled, and commanded by Him, to create a place for Him to dwell in the material world.

In order to accomplish our mission and fulfill His Commandment, first we must become residents in the world. As the first Jew, Abraham was recognized by his neighboring nations as the man who was with God in their midst. This recognition is essential for us to assimilate the Jewish identity.

We know that we are God's people not only because the Torah says so, but because since our origins the nations also acknowledged it. They knew that we are foreigners and residents in their midst because, after all, we are the emissaries of God among them.

It sounds like we can be settlers in the land as long as we remain God's people in the eyes of the nations. This predicament makes us reflect thoroughly in the essence of the Jewish identity.

We indeed (as it is also for the rest of the non-Jewish mortals) are temporary residents in this world, but what makes us different is our mission to be the Light for the nations, a sacred Nation because our God is sacred, and a Nation of priests who sanctify His Name with their actions.

Our place is with God and this also means that, wherever we are, our lives are entitled to fulfill His will. We do this by making the world a better place for all, according to the ways the Torah instructs us to follow. For this mission God gives us the Promised Land.

We may be foreigners and residents in the midst of other nations, but we also have a land assigned to us. In this Land we are able to develop the full potential of our identity to fulfill our mission.

We have indicated in previous commentaries that the Promised Land, besides being a specific geographic location known as the land of Israel, also represents the individual and collective awareness of our connection with the One who gave us this Land. Possessing the and is the direct consequence of manifesting our identity as Jews.

The Torah states this fact, and also warns us countless times about the consequences of losing or despising our connection with God by the choices we make with the free will he gave us.

Our condition of foreigners and residents amid the nations also means that we do not become part of them and their ways, because our ways are defined by our relationship with God. We also have mentioned that the Canaanite nations represent negative traits and qualities that we have to conquer, defeat and subjugate in order to settle in the Promised Land.

The Torah and God's Commandments are the ways and means to overcome the potentially negative trends in human consciousness. When we accomplish this task, we are able to dwell in the awareness of God's Love, hence living in the Promised Land here in the material world.

Ultimately, our final destiny is with the Creator and we see our passage through this world as the time to fulfill the Covenant with Him. Though we know that our spiritual destiny is to dwell with Him, we also know that our lives on Earth are bound to our mission to reveal His Presence, and proclaim His Glory.

We do this by removing the illusions and fantasies of ego's materialistic desires, along with the negative traits that have kept humankind in darkness.

We are indeed strangers and aliens in the lands of negative thoughts, emotions, feelings, passions and instincts. But all these aspects of consciousness can also recognize the positive traits and the blessings that walk hand in hand with God's Love. If we Jews, the Abrahams of today, manifest our identity as emissaries of God's Love in order to awaken others to the awareness of Love's ways and attributes in the midst of material illusions, we will have accomplished our destiny as God's People.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Vayeira: Living in the Unity of God's Love

We have said that God's Love encompasses everything, including its inherent goodness and also those who emulate His ways and attributes. In this unity there is no concealment from Him: "And the Lord said, 'Shall I conceal from Abraham what I am doing? And Abraham shall become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the world be blessed in him'." (Genesis 18:17-18). The unity of the Covenant between the Creator and Abraham is a unity that comprises the Creator, the Torah, the Shabbat, and Israel.

"For I have known him because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the Lord to perform righteousness and justice, in order that the Lord bring upon Abraham that which He spoke concerning him." (18:19). Our Sages explain that this principle is juxtaposed to "And the Lord said, 'Since the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and since their sin has become very grave'." (18:20) in order to make a clear contrast between what Abraham is and represents, and what the people of those two cities were and represented. Again, we are before the duality of good and evil, right and wrong, true and false, from which we have to choose.

The Torah recreates times and places where peoples and individuals had to make a choice. Free will is the fundamental premise to safeguard moral freedom. It is the starting point of whatever is about to come to us. We have heard that "what starts well ends well", and "what starts bad ends bad". It is not necessarily so, because we still can divert from good to bad and from bad to good. However, making positive choices is the beginning in the right direction.

The whole Hebrew Scriptures narrate all kinds of events related entirely to choice, and the whole point of such recurrent situations is to teach us to make the right decisions. In order to do that, our Sages engaged in lengthy discussions to build the ethical foundations of Judaism as the true Light for the nations, for the material world. From these ethical principles we learn that negative and destructive choices lead to death in the plain sense of the word. We are dead when we do not live in the positive decisions that we must make.

In their corruption, the generation of the Flood was already dead; and the waters cleaned the world from what was already dead in the eyes of the Creator. The generation of the tower of Babel was nearly dead by attempting to kill the diversity of the human spirit, as one of God's most precious gifts to us. Reassuring such diversity safeguarded the vibrancy of human life.

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah killed all traits of goodness in their humanness, and were also dead before the Creator. Their destruction was just the means to end the lives of the "living dead". We have said in "God as Love" that we do goodness not only because it is the right and ethical thing to do, but we do it out of Love. We do it because we are aware that Love is our true Essence and identity; therefore, our real reason and motivation is to be good and do goodness.

Our Sages teach that, while the social pattern of the nations is modeled as a pyramid, Israel's principles are modeled as a circle. Among the nations, society is based on the levels of who have more and who have less, in relation to their cultural or ideological values. Those levels are determined by possessions, and the capacity to acquire more is proportional to having a higher or lower position in the pyramid. In Judaism, we Jews are all equal in the eyes of God, as parts of the same circle in whose center He sits. In that structure we all belong together in oneness.

In today's world there is unrest and social turmoil as a result of the nations' pyramid model. Fundamentalist beliefs promote the destruction of such model and replacing it by another pyramid that denies the basic human rights. On the other hand, those who defend the old pyramid model don't know how to keep it above the ground.

The solution is to implement the circle model of Judaism. This is not an easy task because, in order to do it the nations must change their values based on their false conception of superior and inferior human beings. As it is said in these times, they need a lot of "soul searching", and quite a great deal of it. Hence, all this is about coming back to what the soul is as our true Essence and identity.

The Torah teaches us clearly that Creation is the result of God's Love, from what we all are made. Love is what we are and must manifest based on our free will, which is also a gift of God's Love. In this awareness we have to approach our Creator and also His Creation. This is the united circle model of Judaism that teaches us to love each other, simply because that is the will of the Creator as He commands us in His Torah (Leviticus 19:18). Humankind needs to be aware of this Truth, so that at last we can create a place for Him in this world to dwell among us.

From the Book's Foreword

Let's reexamine our ancestral memory, intellect, feelings, emotions and passions. Let's wake them up to our true Essence. Let us engage in the delightful awareness of Love as the Essence of G-d. The way this book is written is to reaffirm and reiterate its purpose, so it presents its message and content in a recurrent way. This is exactly its purpose, to restate the same Truth originally proclaimed by our Holy Scriptures, Prophets and Sages. Our purpose is to firmly enthrone G-d's Love in all dimensions of our consciousness, and by doing it we will fulfill His Promise that He may dwell with us on Earth forever. Let's discover together the hidden message of our ancient Scriptures and Sages. In that journey, let's realize Love as our Divine Essence, what we call in this book the revealed Light of Redemption in the Messianic era.