I am interested lately in Torah only so far as it deepens my awareness. To the extent that Torah is like a mirror, however imperfect, reflecting back to me where I am and what I think I know. Who I think I am. Sometimes the task of speaking Torah feels as though I'm responding to the wounds of war, perhaps some past life, some dimly remembered trauma, the letters of Torah embedding themselves underneath my skin, like shrapnel. I've said before I would leave it behind if I could, but Torah continues to pursue me.
So what in this week's parsha is of value? A support? Can lend itself towards liberation?
What I noticed in the choppy waters of the reflective sea of Torah this week is the suffering embodied inside the womb of Rebecca.
Just one verse (Genesis 25:22):
וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ הַבָּנִים בְּקִרְבָּהּ וַתֹּאמֶר אִם־כֵּן לָמָּה זֶּה אָנֹכִי וַתֵּלֶךְ לִדְרֹשׁ אֶת־יהוה׃
"The children wrestled, warred, struggled within her. And she said, 'if this is the case, why me?!'"
Is this the reward for her decades of barrenness? What kind of reward is the privilege and awareness we have at this time in our lives, within the womb of the world siblings wrestle for recognition, for supremacy for enough air to breathe. Enough water to drink. For representation. For justice. For life.
The mother says EEM KEYN, if this is the way life is, why do I exist? Can I bear this conflict within me? The anxiety of this pandemic, of this political moment, of climate chaos, triggers this exact same question inside many of us. If this is what is, this is what life is all about, is it worth it? Can I hack it? I thought I wanted life, but there are so many forces, seemingly intractable, ancient, primal, fear-driven forces darkening the world, my hope, my mind.
Sometimes when I read the great French Bible commentator Rashi, I think his name should be Roshi, like a Zen Master, because he speaks in very small, cryptic epithets, but that seemed to cut right to the heart of the matter.
And the next verse, it says that the MILOM YE'AMETZ. This wrestling will go on forever between these two nations.
Who are these two nations, I guess I need to give you some context of the story. If you don't recall that Rebecca and Isaac are about to have the third generation. There was Abraham and Sarah, there's Rebecca and Isaac now having Jacob and Esau. Jacob will become Yisrael, the father of us all, so to speak.
We've seen numerous sibling rivalries. The first one ending in fratricide with Cain and Abel. The dueling nations of Yitzhak and Yishmael, the children of Sarah and Abraham who bitterly fought and in the end resolve their conflict.
But here again, these two twins tugging at each other, fighting from the beginning. Yaakov of gets his name grabbing at the ankle, the EKEV, of his brother. To supplant, to uproot, to take down from the Achilles Heel.
And Rashi says, LO YISHAVU BEGDULAH. KESHE ZEH KAM, ZEH NOFAL. That they will never be equal in their greatness. There's always going to be one up or one down. When this one rises up, the other one falls.
And this is precisely like the brief awareness meditation we did. As thoughts arise, as they rise and transit and set, almost by their very nature once they become the object of our attention something else has fallen out of our attention. There's the content and the context. Rise, transit, and set.
So I spent a lot of time with Sam Harris, the philosopher and meditation teacher this week, not in person, but through his writings and his talks. He says, "you will not become a meditator by accident." We see some people who have miraculous turnabouts in their health who say they're overweight and then become incredibly fit. Or people who are walking down the street or like Eckert Tolle sitting on a bench and then Boom— they're enlightened. He says, "let's be honest. That's probably not you." We're probably not going to be the ones with the magic bullet or struck by lightning with any sort of transformation.
We need to be like Rebecca, in this case. She said EEM KEYN LAMA ZEH ANOCHI. "If this is so, towards what end is this? Who am I?"
TEILECH LIDROSH ET HAVAYAH. "And she went," LIDROSH to ask, inquire, to pursue meaning. LIDROSH/לדרש, this verb here is the same word as Midrash. To make meaning of God, with God, from God. Now her question here is important because it's not quite the LAMA, it's not quite the ׳why׳ of desperation.
It's not quite the question that is completely overwhelmed and subsumed by fear or anxiety or certainty of the inability to transcend the struggle.
LAMA/למה, as Reb Zalman taught me, is very different than MADUAH/מדוע. These words both mean "why?" but LAMA is teleological, it towards a point. L'MAH "to what end."
If I say yes to this, EEM KEYN, if I say yes to whatever the content or object of my awareness, to what end does it interact, what does it have to do with this ANI. ZEH ANOCHI. Cause each one of us, every one of us is an evolving being. A MEHALECH. Right? I shared this notion from Hasidic masters and also Gnosticism that there are four categories of being in the world.
The DOMEM, the "silent" stone beings.
The TZOMEIACH, the sprouting ones.
The MECHAYEH, the animal ones.
And then there are us humans, which are sometimes called MEDABER, we speak, but also called MEHALECH, the ones who walk, the upright, the two leggeds.
The Sefat Emet understands this notion of being a MEHALECH as being a being in process. Aware of awareness. It is possible to grow in consciousness, to train our awareness.
And this is exactly what Rebecca does. VATEILEKH. "And she goes." She goes from wherever she is. She doesn't give up. LIDROSH ET HAVAYAH. "To make meaning." To make meaning of her suffering, her pain, her uncertainty. And she does it in relationship. ET HAVAYAH.
So more than a word of Torah, this is just really a question.
Not only are you walking your talk, are you walking? Are you in a place, in a process, of saying EEM KEYN. If I want to say yes to life L'MAH ZEH ANOCHI.
To what end and what kind of opening can I offer my attention and awareness?
That's the gift of Shabbat and the gift of this Kol Hai community,
that we get to remember, remind each other,
we're all just walking each other home.
East Journey (1968) by Friedel Dzubas
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