Sunday, January 27, 2013

Yitro: From Ego's Idolatry to Love's Freedom

In our previous commentary on Yitro: “Understanding God's Love” (February 5, 2012 in this blog) we said that we must have been experienced idolaters in order to receive the Torah.

Hence our Sages explain that without Yitro's presence at Sinai the Torah wouldn't have been given to the children of Israel. Likewise, without slavery in Egypt there wouldn't have been freedom for us from God. In this sense we understand darkness as the prelude to Light, and exile as the preamble for Redemption.

When we say that we have to fully assimilate the meaning of being an idolater, is because idolatry is the underlying reason for receiving the Torah. We see this reason in the Ten Commandments as well as in the rest of the Torah, from beginning to end.

In this context, let's reflect again on the Decalogue. The most important Commandment is the first, because it encompasses everything. All that exists comes from God because He is God: “I am the Lord, your God”, and He states it in His relationship with us: “Who took you out of the land of Egypt”, indicating that He liberated us “out of the house of bondage” (20:2), a bondage to what is against God's ways and attributes.

Thus we can understand such bondage to ego's fantasies and illusions, opposite to Love as the material manifestation of God's Love.

Love is the freedom we experience when we separate our consciousness from ego's agenda. God's Love liberates us from ego's attachments to materialistic illusions we call idols. Consequently, “You shall not have the gods of others in My Presence.” (20:3), as the obvious corollary of God's absolute dominion. Then, as we have said many times, Love does not cohabit with anything different or opposite to its ways and attributes.

Love's ways are the direct opposite of ego's fantasies and illusions as the false gods that separate us from ourselves and from others. Idolatry is understood as the result of an egotistic approach to life. We become attached to sensual desires, fantasies and illusions in direct proportion to our estrangement from Love as our Essence and true identity.

The more we focus on our personal benefit at the expense of others and our surroundings, the more we separate from Love's unifying and encompassing ways. Hence the following verse.

“You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness which is in the Heavens above, which is on the Earth below, or which is in the water beneath the earth.” (20:4-5)

Considering that God's Love is infinite and all encompassing, there is no room for separation, unless is another illusion we create for ourselves. Thus we understand the exclusivity of God's ways and attributes, when He calls Himself zealous.

“You shall neither prostrate yourself before them nor worship them for I the Lord, your God, am a zealous God (...)” (20:5)

As long as we bow to material illusions, we deny the Source from where we all come. We live by God, and we owe ourselves to Him. His Name is the Essence we mustn't neither take for granted, despise or neglect. After all, He is our life from Whom we exist.

“You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold blameless anyone who takes His Name in vain.” (20:7)

As we have remarked, God's Love is our Essence and identity, and the Shabbat is one of the names of this identity. As sacred as it is, we must sanctify it to make a clear difference between profane and sacred. The Shabbat is the time and space where we dwell permanently in God's Love.

All we wish to experience as the most sublime delight with our Creator is also opposite to ego's illusions.

“Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” (20:8)

The Shabbat, as exclusive as the zeal of God, doesn't allow thoughts, emotions or feelings attached to the material world, because it is for Him. This includes ego's fantasies, desires or illusions.

“(...) but the seventh day is a Shabbat for the Lord, your God; [therefore] you shall perform no labor. (…) Therefore, the Lord blessed the Shabbat day and sanctified it.” (20:10-11)

There is no place for attachments to idols that keep us away from Love's ways and attributes. The message is reaffirmed again in our relationship with our parents, as the bearers of our forefathers' legacy and inheritance.

“Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the Lord, your God, gives you.” (20:12)

This legacy is the permanent bond with our Creator. In this sense we understand the goodness of His ways and attributes as the land He gives us constantly. As long as we honor them, we reject the idols that deny our precious inheritance.

The remaining five Commandments of the Decalogue are specific warnings against falling into the idolatry of negative illusions derived from ego's false beliefs and feelings of lack.

“You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or whatever belongs to your neighbor.” (20:13-14)

The magnificence of God's Love is manifest in Moses' words to the children of Israel.

“But Moses said to the people, 'Fear not, for God has come in order to exalt you, and in order that His awe shall be upon your faces, so that you shall not sin'.” (20:17)

God loves us to bring us close to Him. This is the way He exalts (elevates) us to His Presence.

As we experience God's Love, there is no chance to stray away from of His ways and attributes. In God's Love there is no separation or room for the illusions we call sins and transgressions, because there is no lack in Love as the material manifestation of God's Love.

If God is with us, what or who could be against? Only our own illusions can separate us from Him. Hence the portion ends, as we said above, with another warning against idolatry.

“You shall not make [images of anything that is] with Me. Gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.” (20:20)

The Creator reminds us once again that as long as we live by, with, and for His ways and attributes we are blessed by Him, because God is the blessing from whom all blessings come.

“Wherever I allow My Name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.” (20:21)

The Prophet reiterates for us this in his vision of the Throne of Glory.

“And one called to the other and said, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole Earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

Hence as we have said, His glory is His Love.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Beshalach: Becoming Aware of God's Love

One of the main lessons to learn about the Exodus from Egypt, regarding the relationship between the children of Israel and the Creator, is trust. We need to trust in what freedom is in order break away from slavery. In this sense trust is the consequence of knowledge. We trust someone or something as long as we know that we can rely on it. Faith is not blind when it is preceded by trust as a result of knowledge: “In all your ways know Him, and He will straight up your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6).

As long as we know God’s ways as our ways, we know where are we going. When we are bound to harmful addictions and negative patterns, the only way out from them is the knowledge as certainty that there is something much better waiting for us. Some people don’t see a way out simply because they don’t believe that there is something better out there. This is the case when nothing we hear or even consider as a way out offers a real alternative to our current situation, no matter how negative this may be. We can identify this approach as depression. If there is no effective medication to cure it, a miracle is needed.

This was the case of most of the children of Israel at the end of their bondage in Egypt. They needed not only one but many miracles to regain the belief in something better than the meaningless lives they had under Pharaoh’s rule. God’s promise to bring them to the land He swore to their forefathers through miracles such as the Ten Plagues didn’t seem enough. They still doubted the goodness these miracles heralded for them.

The issue then wasn't belief, faith or trust, but doubt and uncertainty. In this context we can understand better why wiping out the remembrance of Amalek’s is not only a Commandment from God. We are also commanded to remember every day what Amalek did to the children of Israel in their way out from Egypt. In our commentary on Beshalach: “Love as the Meaning of Life” of January 29, 2012 we also refer to this issue.

The lesson therefore is to find the true meaning of life as God tells us in the Torah, and to live by, for and with it all the time. This meaning, as we said before, is Love as the cure for all doubts, hesitations and uncertainties. Love is what we need to believe, what we must know, what we have to live, and what we are compelled to trust. We do this just because Love is our Essence and true identity. We can’t do it if Love is not part of us.

As we start to recognize this, we also begin to realize our permanent connection with the Creator. First we must become aware of Love in order to relate to God’s Love. There is no other way. If we don’t believe, know, or trust who we really are, then how can we do it with God? In this sense, we have to seriously engage in the task to realize our identity amid ego’s fantasies and illusions. This is the dilemma our ancestors faced back in the Exodus, and so do we every day in our lives. This is why we remember daily in the Jewish prayers the transition from slavery to freedom. It's about the constant struggle for our final Redemption from the illusions in the material world.

Our ancestors time and again distrusted God, despite His miracles because the reference they had about their identity was slavery. Time and again they defied God and didn’t recognize Him, because they didn’t know God as the Source from where everything exists. The Ten Plagues and the miracles, such as the split of the sea and the Manna, were not enough because these were not acknowledged as part of their own consciousness. In other words, all the Creator does must be assimilated as part of ourselves because we all come from Him. At that moment we say, “The Lord is my strength and song, and He is my Redemption; this is my God and I will glorify Him; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” (Exodus 15:2).

Our Sages explain that the total destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea was the definitive signal for the children of Israel to trust God. Once there was no real danger to die or being brought back to Egypt, there was nothing to fear. Our Sages mention this as the reason for the memorable Song of the Sea (15:1-19) we recite every day in the Jewish prayer book.

The recognizance of God's Love as the Source of our Essence and identity is the beginning to become aware our inherent connection with Him. This explains the words of this song regarding our permanent bond with God’s Love: “In Your unfailing love You will lead the people You have redeemed. In Your strength, You will guide them to Your holy dwelling.” (15:13).

As we said above, Love is our common bond with the Creator which is manifest in a time and space called the Temple of Jerusalem: “You shall bring them in, and plant them In the mountain of Your inheritance, a fixed place for Your dwelling You have made, O Lord; the Sanctuary, O Lord, Your hands have established.” (15:17). Thus we realize that our connection with the Creator is permanent: “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.” (15:18), and the beginning of this awareness lies in our Essence and true identity.

This is also the beginning of our fundamental belief, faith and trust. King David reminds us: “O Lord of multitudes, happy is the man that trusts in You.” (Psalms 84:12) as well as the Prophet, “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” (Jeremiah 17:7). The context of this trust is cleaving to God’s Love in contrast to depending on ego’s fantasies and illusions. These are the idols and false gods created by arrogance: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.” (Psalms 40:4).

God’s Love makes us aware of the goodness of Love’s ways and attributes through which we see the Light in the darkness of ego’s fantasies and illusions. He made our ancestors aware with His miracles in their times, and He also makes us aware of them every day. The lesson is to live them as they manifest also as our common bond with Him.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bo: Freedom from Ego's Domains

The essential message of the book of Exodus is the transition from slavery to freedom, and we must assimilate it as a continuing process in all levels and dimensions of consciousness. Freedom is usually related to a state of boundlessness, in which we are separated from anything that keeps us subjugated against our will, and in spite of our free will.

We have to comprise this general definition into what we are able to discern and want to discern. In what we think and want to learn. In what we sense and desire to feel. In what we desire and want to experience with our greatest intensity. Then the whole issue lies on how exactly we want to live and experience life. At this turning point, we have to pay attention to who or what answer the question, either be ego's fantasies and illusions or Love's ways and attributes.

In this third portion of the book of Exodus, Pharaoh as the extreme egocentric approach to life presents himself as the greatest antagonist that God ever had among humans. We don't see such relationship between the Creator with any of His creatures throughout the entire Torah.

Pharaoh is eloquently defined as the only human who dared to defy God's will, besides not recognizing Him as the One and only Creator who owns and control His Creation (Pharaoh included, of course!).

Our Sages are quite correct when they equalize the infamous king of Egypt to life's powerful driving force known as ego. Let's be really honest with ourselves and admit the truth behind this. Most of what we think or believe we are or have in our consciousness, and what we think or believe outside our consciousness, are shaped by our “personal” and “individual” egocentric approach to life. See our previous commentaries on Parshat Bo: “Light as Our Destination” of February 1, 2011 and “From Darkness to Light” of January 22, 2012.

Let's face it. We are our own personal gods, believing that we own our existence and (for sure!) we control it. Not to mention controlling others. In this sense, probably a sizable amount of agnostics and atheists owe their ideologies to their egos. The Torah summarizes such mentality in this verse: “So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh and said to him, 'So said the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “how long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me”?'” (Exodus 10:3).

In the case of Pharaoh, his egocentricity was extreme to the point of self destructing his own consciousness, and his domains: “Pharaoh's servants said to him, 'How long will this one be a stumbling block to us? Let the people go and they will worship their God. Don't you yet know that Egypt is lost'?” (10:7).

As we mentioned above, we have to listen to either ego's voice as the speaker of materialistic fantasies, desires and illusions; or to Love's voice as the speaker of the goodness in life. Judaism defines Love not as thought, emotion, feeling or passion, but as the ethical principle behind those. Love itself is an ethical foundation, as the material manifestation of God's Love that also contains values, principles, ways, means and attributes. God teaches us to love in the ways He loves us.

Our reference of Love is God's Love, and nothing else. This ethical foundation shows us its ways and attributes to guide and conduct all levels and dimensions of consciousness: “Moses said, 'With our youth and with our elders we will go, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our cattle we will go, for it is a festival of the Lord to us'.” (10:9).

This verse is fundamental to understand that our connection with the Creator exists regardless our age or gender. It also reminds us that when we gather in prayers (which replaced the sacrificial offerings in the Temple of Jerusalem), we are encircled united and together in front of God.

We have said in other commentaries in this blog that the Hebrew word for “festival” means “to gather in circle” or to encircle. This approach is directly opposed to the pyramidal model of society represented by Egypt under Pharaoh's rule. This model is the result of the egocentric mentality that imposes separation according to ego's capricious whims. In spite of its destruction by God's will to set the example of Israel as the proper “encircled” society for humankind, the pyramidal pattern continued to be imposed by Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and other nations up to our current times.

This pyramidal mentality divides society in levels, casts and categories in which there are superior and inferior human beings. This mentality engenders and justifies totalitarian ideologies that promote racism, segregation, discrimination, intolerance, fanaticism; and perpetrates persecutions and genocides. These “values” go as far as deifying humans in order to make their point that there are “superior” humans. This crowns their obscurantist mentality. Hence we understand idolatry and its contemporary expression in wild capitalism and consumer's society.

This obscurantism is the darkness that Pharaoh and the Egyptians tried to imposed in the children of Israel, and the “stretched hand and extended arm” of the Creator made obsolete.

The Israelites were God's chosen victims to teach a lesson to humankind about the goodness of the circle as the opposite of the pyramid. Unfortunately, humankind hasn't learned enough from the Jews and the God of Israel.

After the plagues, the Egyptians seemed to learn and realize that living under the pyramidal system of Pharaoh was equal to being dead: “So the Egyptians took hold of the people to hasten to send them out of the land, for they said, 'we are all dead'.” (12:33).

The Exodus from Egypt as Redemption as it was for the children of Israel means not an end from slavery but a beginning from freedom. We said above that freedom is qualified and quantified either according to ego's agenda or Love's ways and attributes.

If we have learned something from all this, we may realize that we live in real freedom when we leave behind ego's constraining and restricting illusions. Once we do this, the next step it to enthrone Love's ways in all dimensions of consciousness, and in all aspects of life.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Vaeira: Loving God Unconditionally

Probably the most important lesson our Patriarchs teach us regarding their relationship with the Creator is to love Him and devote our lives to Him unconditionally.

This is a fundamental principle to entirely assimilate the uncontested fact that God is the Creator of all, and that includes us. Once we fully understand that we come from Him, who also shows us the meaning of life in His Torah, we come to realize that there is no point for us to set out conditions for our relationship with Him.

The moment we fall into ego's illusion that we are our own gods, living as separate entities from the Creator, we lose the true meaning of our individual and collective existence.

Our Patriarchs were beyond the limitations of intellect, understanding and sensation to approach the Creator as conceived by Judaism, under its principle that He has no definition. Hence, this approach implies and requires an unconditional attitude towards Him in every way, starting with our love for Him.

We love God because we come from His love. This fact allows us to know that love is our common bond with Him. Therefore love is also the means to transcend the limitations of consciousness in order to bond with Him as undefined has He is. Transcendence is the result of love when it is unconditional. In other words, when we love unconditionally we transcend the limitations (as “conditions”) of human consciousness.

In this context, unconditional love is the opposite expression of an egocentric approach to life. This means that ego limits and restricts our consciousness to its fantasies and illusions. The more selfish we are, the more isolated and constrained we become in our life, to the point that everything else is meaningless.

An egotistic attitude is directly proportional to a materialistic approach to life. We are attached to bad habits, negative behavioral patterns, unhealthy addictions and obsessions in direct proportion to ego's fantasies and illusions. Thus we understand what our sages indicate when they say the Pharaoh represents an egotistic approach to life, and Egypt (as the space of of ego's domain) the constrains and limitations of such approach.

Ego indeed sets our limitations as boundaries that separate us from our surroundings. We fulfill our personal pretensions first by letting ego control every level of consciousness, and then trying to control other people's lives. This also was the case of the Pharaoh of Egypt on his people, and on the children of Israel.

God responds to Moses' frustration over Pharaoh's decision to make harder the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt. Moses knew that it was God's decision behind Pharaoh's, and complained to Him.

We read God's answer at the beginning of this weekly portion.

“I appeared [lit. I was seen] to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Exodus 6:3)

Thus pointing out to Moses that the Patriarchs never questioned His decisions as God the Almighty, because their love was truly unconditional for Him.

As we said above, the lesson here is to accept God's ways and attributes (either revealed to us or not) for the simple fact that He is our Creator. As long as we maintain this awareness permanently, we enable ourselves to relate to God not only as His creatures, but as an emanation of His love. Our love for Him must be as unconditional and endless as we conceive Him.

We must not fall into the illusion of conditioning and imagining God according to ego's agenda. Should we fool ourselves creating an illusion of God the way ego imagines, desires and controls? A god according to what I want, desire or need, depending on the circumstances? And submit this illusion to ego's wishes and demands? “Give me this, such, and that”... and then I will love you, dear god?

This delusional approach, epitomized by the Pharaoh of Egypt, gets its answer from the true God that is in undisputed control of His Creation. An answer intended to reveal His ways and attributes to instruct humankind about the real purpose of life in the material world.

The ten plagues as the overwhelming manifestation of God's dominion and control over His entire creation, in contrast to ego's pretension to control human consciousness.

We referred in this blog to the meanings of the plagues in our previous commentary on Parshat Vaeira: “Love as freedom from ego's dominion”. The Plagues convey profound lessons to redirect ego's negative approach towards positive and uplifting ways and means. These allow us to assimilate life as an extension of God's love for us to relate with Him.

The plagues were not intended to destroy the king of Egypt but to teach him in particular, and human consciousness in general, that love's ways and attributes are the means through which ego (as the driving force of life), must be directed.

The restricted and constraining space in which ego limits our consciousness (represented by the land of Egypt) must be devastated in order to be abandoned and evacuated. Once we leave behind all restrictions from ego's domination, we turn into a vessel to be filled by God's ways and attributes, revealed in His Torah.

As we have said before, this vessel is humbleness. In this sense humbleness enables us to be unconditional in our love to approach every aspect of life. Our oral tradition teaches that Moses became “God's loyal servant”. Humbleness was the means that make him close to the Creator, gaining the right to be called “the humblest man who ever lived”.

In sum, the essential message of this portion is humbleness as the premise to love God unconditionally. Humbleness in direct opposition to ego's separatist agenda. We often say that love does not cohabit with anything opposed to its ways and attributes. Our sages also say that the Creator doesn't dwell with the arrogant, simply because he doesn't have space except for himself.

The prophet summarizes this essential message in the haftarah for this portion.

“Thus said the Lord God: 'behold, I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lies in the midst of his rivers, who has said: “My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself”'.” (Ezekiel 29:3)

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.