Here’s a little bit of deep spiritual practice, disguised as light fun, for Tevet. This month of Tevet, which began at sundown on December 26th, 2011 and ends at sundown on January 24, 2012, is associated with the concept of seeing. The letter associated with the month, according to Inner.org, is the Ayin (ע) — the eye. Over at PeelaPom.com I used this concept to explore the lighting of candles as a practice for the month. Then I had a flash of inspiration or insanity right before Rosh Chodesh services at OneShul.org — a little divination for the month of seeing!
Now, before you panic, yes — many kinds of divination are … frowned upon in Jewish tradition. Of course, if it’s the BESHT doing it — it doesn’t count. But I’m not the BESHT. Several sources, including the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Supersitiion, call the Jewish tradition of bibliomancy “Sheilat Sefer” (שאלת ספר). Sheilat Sefer simply means, “Question a Book.” This makes sense since dream interpretation is often called Sheilat Halom – Question a Dream (שאלת חלום).
Techniques like Sheilat Sefer allow us to tap into our deep intuition, and open ourselves to the wisdom of the Divine. They allow us to move beyond our rational minds to finds ideas, answers, or inspiration. Technically you could use any book for this practice, but traditionally it’s done with either a Chumash (The Five Books of Moses) or The Book of Psalms. But there’s a host of other amazing Jewish (and not Jewish) texts that can provide a powerful experience. Personally, as the folks at OneShul found out, I like to use the Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols by Ellen Frankel. I think the Perek Shirah, the Song of Nature, is another fabulous Jewish text to use for this practice
Curious? Want to give Sheilat Sefer a try? It’s pretty easy. Just grab a book, and flip randomly to a page. Then either without looking put your finger on something and read, or use whatever your eyes first fall upon. Don’t cheat — that’s really not the way to go. Just read and see what thoughts, feelings, or images the words bring up for you. This all works a bit better if you clear your mind, maybe state your Kavanah (intention) or question, and even give a little prayer to center yourself. Be sure to also give a prayer of thanks for the wisdom received — even if you don’t feel like you got much!
Kabbalah appears in the public eye more now than perhaps ever. The Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles, and world wide, made it popular, and now people from Madonna, to Demi Moore claim to follow the way of Kabbalah.
So, given all this attention, I figured a little discussion about Kabbalah would be appropriate.
Kabbalah is Jewish Mysticism – the word Kabbalah means, roughly, “that which has been received,” and it refers to a tradition of seeking the divine in the most profound ways in Judaism. Like other types of mysticism, the goal of Kabbalah is to get in touch with the infinite, with the divine. For those who are regular practitioners of other mystically influenced traditions – meditation, yoga, Sufi mysticism – Kabbalah offers many of the same tools, only, of course, coming from a Jewish perspective.
So what makes Jewish Mysticism different? Jewish mystics, or Kabbalists, use the Hebrew language and the stories of the Hebrew Bible as jumping off points to find symbolic messages to improve their lives. Many devotees of Kabbalah will meditate using Hebrew letters as foci for their meditation. The manipulation of the letters, either by writing them, or by thinking about their permutations, and how they relate to the names of the divine as written in the Hebrew Bible, provide people meditation keys for their own inner beings.
Kabbalah encompasses more than just meditation practices, it also contains stories and teachings about how to make one’s life better by cooperating better with the divine in our world. An important teaching about this comes in an interpretative story about creation.
If we understand the divine to be infinite, which is one of the names for the divine in Kabbalah, then how can there be any finite creation? The Kabbalastic teaching on this is that in order to create, the divine had to withdraw, to make limited space in the infinity of the divine. So that now, as people in a limited creation, we have to work to access the infinite. Kabbalah also teaches that we have a responsibility to work with the divine to make creation better – that as humans we are capable of co-creation, both within ourselves and in the world. Thus we can be divine partners in the completion of a better world.
Other Kabbalistic teachings help us focus on building balance in our lives between our priorities. Recognition of all the things that pull at us, reflecting on them, and how helpful them may or may not be, also helps us to work to better balance them, and better accomplish our partnership for improvement of the world.
These brief teachings show a mere glimpse into the literature and practices that have been developed over the past two thousand years, that we now call Kabbalah. If this interests you, feel free to contact me, as Temple Bat Yam has a regular Kabbalah discussion group, no experience necessary!
May all of us continue to work to help everyone be a better partner in creating a better world.
“Woe to (those) who look upon the Torah as simply tales pertaining to things of the world, seeing thus only the outer garment. But (those) whose gaze penetrates to the very Torah, happy are they. Just as wine must be in a jar to keep, so the Torah must be contained in an outer garment. That garment is made up of the tales and stories; but we, we are bound to penetrate beyond.”
–from “The Hidden Meaning of Torah”