January 28, 2021

Daily Wisdom: Mastery is the ability not to be emotionally reactive

According to Hayyim Vital, the premier student and mystical partner to Isaac Luria, leader of the great renaissance school of Kabbalah in Safed:

“The soul of the kabbalist itself, when it becomes transparent to the divine, is the revelation which guides the person in all of his life paths.”

The path of the soul in these texts and  traditions is understood explicitly to mean the path of passion, emotion and feeling. The goal is to be able to access and listen to the voice of deep emotion and detect within it the voice of God. This is how these mystics read the text. “The masters are those who have mastery over their hearts.”

Mastery, a kind of spiritual emotional intelligence, is understood as the ability to be not merely emotionally reactive, welling up with tears, laughter or anger only in response to some external event.  To be a master is the ability to identify and access a broad range of deep emotions at will, using those depth emotions to guide and interpret reality with the eyes of God.  While the intellect clearly remains a vital tool, the prophetic kabbalistic tradition insists that one who engages spirit, “with only mind and intellect….cannot attain the level of the Garden of Eden….the inner emotional work of amazement, deep feeling and ecstasy….in this world {which is} part of the enlightenment of the higher worlds.”

It is only by doing this work that “you can experience your future redeemed world, your portion in the Garden of Eden….in this world.”

Dr. Marc Gafni
Dance of Tears
(in press)

Daily Wisdom: The gates of tears are never closed

The wise of heart in biblical consciousness are those who are deeply connected to the inner emotional rhythms of their lives.  All personal growth is dependent on emotional intelligence – wisdom of the heart. And in Biblical thought we are alive for nothing if not to grow. The archetypal symbol of the spiritual emotional intelligence in much of ancient and  modern literature is tears.  Tears have the ability to be our inner masters. Each tear, or at least each form of crying opens up a new path to follow. Each bout of tears discloses something essential about the truths of our lives.

No two people cry alike. We have already mentioned 19th-century mystic Tzadok Hacohen of Lublin teaching that we are each are own esoterica.  We are each our own secret. Wisdom is esoteric not because it is intentionally hidden, teaches Tzadok; rather knowledge is kept secret because we are unable to access it.  Further when we do finally uncover wisdom, we are often incapable of transmitting it.

One portal however which remains, to our inner secrets – both to reveal them to ourselves and to share them with intimates – is through the gateway of tears. ‘All the gates are closed’, writes the Talmud, ‘the gates of tears are never closed.’

Dr. Marc Gafni
The Dance of Tears
(in press)

 

World Spirituality Unplugged: Marc Gafni Teaches Jewish Mysticism (Part 1)

From the World Spirituality Unplugged archives: an audio teaching by Marc Gafni on Kabbalah, delivered in English in the spring of 2006 at a spirituality conference in Midtown Manhattan. In this 10-minute introductory segment, Marc brings the audience members (with several hundred in attendance) into a meditative posture and introduces chanting.

Marc Gafni:

The Hebrew word for God, the God force, whether you are a theist, or not a theist, in talking about the force of the universe, the word is breath itself. In breath. YAHH… Breath in breath. YAHH…

Listen to the audio: [Read more…]

Daily Wisdom: Divine Imagination

God is the possibility of possibility – limitless imagination. The first of the ten commandments is “I am God.”  When this God is asked to identify himself, He responds, “I will be what I will be.” That is, ‘You cannot capture me in the frozen image of any time or place. To do so would be to destroy me.’ It would be to violate the second commandment against idolatry. Idolatry is the freezing of God in a static image. To freeze God in an image is to violate the invitation of the imagination. It is to limit possibility.

The Temple modeled after the Biblical myth tabernacle in the desert is the product of imagination. In a wonderfully paradoxical set of mystical texts, Bezalel, the master craftsman of the book of Exodus, receives no clear blueprint from God or Moses on how to build the tabernacle. And yet he builds it in accordance with “God’s will.” For the Kabbalists, this is a hidden allusion to the power of holy imagination to intuit cosmic truth.

When the mystics suggest that Bezalel is “taught by God,” they speak in code. The artist is “wise of heart,” “filled with the spirit of wisdom, intuition and intimate understanding.”  All of these draw their inspiration from the breath of divine imagination.

Dr. Marc Gafni
The Erotic and the Holy

Daily Wisdom: “I am God”

Sacred hermeneutic is ultimately an erotic act according to the mystics in which the God in the interpreter meets the God and the text and realizes that they are one.

It is this erotic merger with the divine in the act of interpreting sacred text which has been the central realization of my own personal path to the divine.  In this meeting between infinite and finite, the meetings blurs into a merger, a unio-mystica, achieved  through the meditative ecstatic intellectual act of sacred study. Thus when we engage text we meet both third person descriptions of reality, a second person encounter with the Noten Hatorah, the torah given in the eternal now by the eternal divine thou, as well as the merger of the mystic with the word of God in which the voice of God speaks through the mystics Torah in the realization that “I am God.”

The Dance of Tears (in press)
Dr. Marc Gafni

Daily Wisdom: Every generation is part of the unfolding revelation of divinity

R. Kook, twentieth century philosopher mystic, teaches that every generation is part of the unfolding revelation of divinity.  Each generation, picking up from where the last one left off, moves closer to understanding the full depth and divinity of sacred rites and passages. In this sense the “covenant between me and the children of Israel”  is not only between God and the people – but “between”  the children of Israel…. and their children ….and their children – a covenant between generations. Israel means for me, borrowing a reading from my teacher Mordechai Lainer of Izbica, based on a close and creative reading of the original Hebrew, Yashar El; the direct apprehension of the divine.

The community of Israel are those who receive tradition reverentially and yet seek their own unmediated experience of divinity as the lodestone of their spiritual and ethical journey.  In this covenant each generation promises its forbearers to continue the journey of unfolding divinity though the prism of our questing souls.

Dr. Marc Gafni
The Dance of Tears (forthcoming 2013)

Daily Wisdom: Creation is in our hands

God is called in biblical myth “Shadai,” translated by the wisdom masters as, “He who said to his world, ‘Dai’ – enough.” Two meanings well up from the word. The first is that the creative process was stopped when God said enough. Divinity turned to humanity and said, “I have done enough. You – each one of you – be my partners in completing the work of creation.”  Have you ever created something, conceived of a project and then handed over responsibility for it to another. You have to really trust that person to “entrust” to them Your creation. The phrase “Raba Emunatecha” – from the Hebrew liturgy, literally means “Your trust is great.”  I read it to mean that God’s trust IN US is great. God entrusts creation into our hands.

The Erotic and the Holy
Dr. Marc Gafni

 

Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 4 of 5)

Editor’s note: The following essay by Marc Gafni is published as a white paper of the Center for World Spirituality think tank. Our Spirit’s Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper’s availability.

Ten Words to Live By

The second biblical myth word symbol of freedom is actually mistranslated into English as the Ten Commandments. The people, so the story goes, having fled Egypt, gather at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. Of course, nowhere in the biblical myth is there any mention of Ten Commandments. Here is where the old witty maxim, “Reading the bible in translation is like kissing a woman through a veil,” becomes not altogether untrue. In the original Hebrew, the people receive at Sinai not Ten Commandments but “Ten Words.” Here Voice becomes Word, the articulation of speech. It is the beginning of the vision that follows revolution.

The third word symbol is no less than the word “Messiah.” “Messiah” in the original Hebrew is understood by the Kabbalists, quite astoundingly, to mean “conversation.” Master Nachum of Chernobyl, mystic and philosopher, points out that the Hebrew word for messiah, Mashiach, can be understood as the Hebrew word Ma-siach – meaning “from dialogue” or “of conversation.” His assertion radically implies that the Messiah is potentially present in every human conversation—every mutual act of voice-giving.

All authentic conversation is sacred conversation. The ability to have an honest face-to-face talk in which both sides are true to themselves, vulnerable and powerful at the same time, is Messianic.

Simply put, sacred conversation is the vessel that receives the light of Messiah.

[Read more…]

Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 3 of 5)

By Marc Gafni

Editor’s note: The following essay is published as a white paper of the Center for World Spirituality think tank. Our Spirit’s Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper’s availability.

The Second Stage: from Silence to Sound

The beginning of freedom is the emergence of voice. This stage is expressed both by the initial cry of the Israelite slaves that broke their silence, as well as by Moses’ arrival on the scene. “When Moses came, voice came,” writes the Zohar. Moses does what the charismatic revolutionary always does: he gives voice to the people. Indeed, biblical myth text records the beginning of redemption with the following words: “…It came to pass in the course of many days that the King of Egypt died and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage and they cried out and their cry came up unto God.” The enslaved Israelites are received by the presence of God at the point when they move from the dumb silence of the slave to sound which is the beginning of speech, the characteristic of a free people. This “cry” is not an elegantly articulated protest – it is a cry as in the cry of a wolf, or the cry of an infant. It is primal, impassioned, pre-civilized, a howl of protest that makes it into the halls of heaven, heard by God himself.

For the first time the enslaved can express distress. They seek to articulate words that are not yet ready to form themselves on their lips. At this stage of moving toward freedom, we do not yet know how to tell our story. We do not know what we would do with the world if it were given over to our stewardship. We just know that we must protest.

The biblical myth symbol (Leviticus 25) for the transition from slavery to freedom is the primal blast of a ram’s horn. No trumpet of gold, it is rather the rawness of the ram’s horn that captures the slave’s first fitful sounds. The first thing a revolutionary movement must do is sound its ram horn–start a newspaper, set up a radio station, build an internet site. It is not by accident that the fundamentalist and totalitarian states are trying to disallow or severely limit internet access. Freedom’s beginnings are expressed in the first shouts of protest.

The sixties and seventies were such second-stage revolutionary generations. This helps explain why so many sixties hippies became late seventies and early eighties yuppies and then transformed again into the establishment of the nineties. The feeling of distress generated protest – sound and even the first glimmerings of voice–but there was no alternative vision of society to generate “speech.” Similarly, many third world revolutionaries reflect such second stage thinking. Consequently, as we all know, that not a few third world revolutionaries became the leaders of far more repressive regimes than the ones they overthrew. Because they lacked speech to articulate the primal manifestations of voice, they needed to repress all of their own pain, the very distress and disease that initially led to the revolution.

[Read more…]

Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 1 of 5)

Editor’s note: The following essay is published as a white paper of the Center for World Spirituality think tank. Our Spirit’s Next Move blog is pleased to announce the paper’s availability.

“As the Kabbalists point out, the word Moses spelled backwards is Ha Shem, meaning ‘the name.’ Importantly, Ha-shem in biblical Hebrew also is the most common reference to God’s name. When you respond to your call and realize your soul print, fully becoming your name, you become one with God. When Moses did this, he found his voice, he became a prophet.”

By Marc Gafni

To live your story is to move from a state of slavery to freedom. Slavery is not limited to our old image of the oppressed Hebrew or black slave being whipped by the cruel master. We are all potentially free, just as we are all potentially slaves. Our intent in this brief essay is to at least begin to unpack a core intuition of the Zohar —that a free person is a person who has found voice. As we shall see in the very last paragraphs of this discussion the implications of freedom are wondrous indeed!

The Hebrew name for the Passover Storytelling Ritual, which celebrates and reenacts the dynamic movement from slavery to freedom, is Pe-Sach. Renaissance mystic Isaac Luria reminded us that Pe-Sach is a combination of two words—Peh, meaning “mouth,” and Sach, meaning “talk.” Pe- Sach, therefore, means the mouth that talks.

One school of Hasidic masters unpacks this idea by defining redemption as the emergence of speech. To move from a dumb and mute existence to a communal storytelling existence is to undergo redemptive transformation. “To be redeemed,” writes one mystic, “is to lead a history-making, storytelling, communing, free existence.” To be in exile is to lack history, tell no story, fail to commune, and exist as a slave, silent.

The most oft cited source for this idea is a stunning passage in the Zohar which describes the Egyptian slavery as the “exile of speech.” In Kabbalah, every biblical nation represents a different organ of the body; Egypt represents the throat. The mystics read the Hebrew word “Egypt” literally as meaning narrowness. The throat is, of course, the narrow, constricted passage between the wide spaces of the heart and mind. The narrow throat, Egypt, is thus the ideal symbol for the exile of speech. Speech remains caught in the throat, in the dark passage, and can’t make it to freedom’s gateway, the mouth. Redemption comes in the birth of the word. In the actual process of your retelling, you reclaim your story. But to be capable of retelling your story you need voice. Redemption then is the process of finding voice.

[Read more…]

Daily Wisdom: A Name with the power to Heal

Why do we respond to death not with an exclamation of comfort, but with the Kaddish – a seemingly theological statement, “Magnified and Exalted is his great name”?

The answer holds one of the most sacred mysteries of love rooted in the secret of the cherubs.

There is a story told about Israel, Master of the Name, the great teacher who started the mystical Hassidic movement in the late 18th century.

Read the story>>>

Tears and Transformation: Toward the Redemption of a Crying God

Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography

Excerpted from Chapters 1, 10, and 11 of Reclaiming Rosh Hashanah: The Dance of Tears (forthcoming, Integral Publishers)

Summary: In this essay, excerpted from Marc Gafni’s forthcoming publication Reclaiming Rosh Hashanah: The Dance of Tears, we encounter biblical myth character Rachel and her three levels of tears of transformation: human empathy for the suffering of other human beings, human empathy for the pain of God, and empathy of God for man. These three strands of Rachel’s tears form “a sacred circle of nondual love,” according to Marc in this passage. Furthermore, these tears of redemption express a core idea in Hebrew wisdom: “The human being, by engaging the Rachel archetype and entering into the pain of the Shechina in exile, can—through his tears—realize his ontic identity with the Shechina herself, and in this very realization, be aroused to great compassion and achieve redemption.” This excerpt introduces the mystical techniques of the crying of transformation and the transformation of crying. It is by accessing these tears that we offer redemption for a crying God.

In order to fully appreciate the nature of Rosh Hashanah theatre and the dance of tears, it is necessary to point out the implicit distinction between this biblical form of holy day theatre and the concept of theatre inherited by western civilization from ancient Greece. In classical Greek theatre, the operative principle was Aristotle’s understanding of catharsis. Catharsis for Aristotle meant the purging of the emotions. [Read more…]

Daily Wisdom: The Stones Will Sparkle

Prism

From The Erotic and the Holy, by Marc Gafni:

Now let me share with you something truly beautiful. It is a sort of Hebrew mystic expansion of Traherne’s moment of rapture. It is one of my favorite stories.

The disciples still tell of the time, more than two centuries ago, when the master known as the Bat Ayin, the Daughter of the Eye, received his call. The way the old students tell it, a mysterious man entered the study hall of the master in Europe and whispered with great intensity several sentences into his ear. On the very next day, the master gathered the community and announced that they had received the call of Lech Lecha, the call to go up to the Land of Israel.

The master was clearly roused to great passion. The disciples, infected by his ardor, were moved to action. The entire community over a period of a year was transplanted from Europe to the biblical land of Israel. It was around the time of the American Revolution. The community flourished in the mystical city of Safed, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

One day, however, after many tranquil years, a mysterious man appeared in the study hall. The older disciples recognized him. It was the same man who had whispered into the master’s ear so many years before. Who was he? Where was he from? No one knew.

This time, however, he did not whisper several sentences into the master’s ear. He spoke to the master for only a moment, uttering perhaps one sentence. Then he was gone. The master’s face fell. He withdrew from the study hall into his room, where he remained seven whole days. When he came out, his face shone. That same ardor and passion that had moved him to make the initial journey once again lit up his countenance. “We are not there yet,” he said, “but we will get there.”

He began to sing and dance. His display went on for nearly seven hours. What was most strange, though, was that every fifteen minutes or so, he would go to the window, look outside, and then return to the circle, dancing and singing with renewed intensity and passion.

At some point in the eighth hour, a smile of ecstasy and triumph spread across his face. “Yes,” he said softly, “they are rubies.” [Read more…]

Daily Wisdom: Perception is Love

The Kabbalists were often referred to as Mistaklim or Chozim, roughly translated as the Lookers or Seers. To get a handle on what that might mean, just imagine how we feel when someone looks at us with erotic, loving eyes.

We feel energized, uplifted and embraced. We become more vibrant, audacious and alive. We feel safer in the world. The sense of alienation, separateness and loneliness that tarred our empty days and painful nights seems to lift.

The more steady the loving gaze is, the more we can steady ourselves and chart our direction and purpose on the path of being. It begins with the loving eyes of the mother – our first lover – and continues throughout our lives. Love’s eyes sustain us, nourish us and connect us to the essential aliveness that courses through the universe. Being seen makes us alove and alive. The same is true of God. The gaze of the mystic sustains and even ‘creates’ God.

Indeed Israel for the Kabbalists is not merely a national group. The very word Israel is far more profoundly translated from the Hebrew as ‘The one who sees God’. Love is Perception. Perception is creation. That is the power of the original appearance of the perception word Ra’ah in biblical myth. After every stage of the unfolding creation process in Genesis the text reads ‘God saw and It was Good.’

Mystic Luzatto reflects virtually the entire Kabbalistic tradition when he reminds us that the motive force for creation is divine love. ‘God saw that it was Good’ could be re-read as God loved – perception is love – and brought the world into being.

The Erotic and the Holy
Marc Gafni


For more information on private study or to book a public teaching, contact Dr. Marc Gafni at support@ievolve.org

Interiors, Face, and the Reconstruction of Eros

By Dr. Marc Gafni

Summary: The four faces of eros, described by Marc Gafni in this excerpt from Mystery of Love (2003), are 1.) being on the inside, 2.) fullness of presence, 3.) desire, and 4.) interconnectivity of being.  As Marc describes, with its mystical role in these four expressions, the face itself is the truest reflection of the erotic.  In the flow of eros, we access the experience of being on the inside of God’s face, which Marc explores here through the Temple mystery of the sexually entwined cherubs atop the Ark who are positioned face to face; the Hebrew word “panim,” which means “inside, face, and before;” and the erotic experience of having a true face-to-face conversation. This significant passage from Mystery of Love invites you to embody the erotic—which is modeled but not exhausted by the sexual—more deeply in your own life.

Eros has many expressions. Each expression is hinted at in the temple mysteries.  There are four faces of eros which, when taken together, form the essence of the Shechina experience. In this essay, we will explore the erotic understanding which forms the matrix of the secret of the cherubs and informs every arena of our existence. As we shall see, at the very heart of Hebrew tantra was a very precise and provocative understanding of the relationship between love, sex, and eros. This will open us up to a whole new understanding of our sexuality and will show us the way to erotically reweave the very fabric of our lives in more vivid patterns, sensual textures, and brilliant hues.

The First Face of Eros: On the Inside

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The cherubs in the magical mystery of Temple myth were not stationary fixtures. No, these statues were expressive, emotive. They moved. When integrity and goodness ruled the land, the cherubs were face to face. In these times, the focal point of Shechina energy rested erotically, ecstatically, between the cherubs. When discord and evil held sway in the kingdom, the cherubs turned from each other, appearing back to back instead of face to face.1  Back to back, the world was amiss, alienated, ruptured. Face to face, the world was harmonized, hopeful, embraced. Thus, face to face in biblical myth2 is the most highly desirable state. It is the gem stone state of being, the jeweled summit of all creation.  Face to face, to be fully explicit, is a state of eros.

[Read more…]

Daily Wisdom: YES!


I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine,
and still stand on the edge of a lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes”!
– Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It was to this that Emerson referred when he said, “Love is the affirmative of the affirmatives.” Love is the universe shouting out a joyful yes when our names our called.

In Hebrew the word yes – Kein – means integrity. Yes is the ultimate affirmation of our integrity. The question of your existence is whether you can say yes to the adventure that is your life. That is self-love!  When you wake up to a beautiful day which is simply divine – when you eat a piece of carrot cake which is just out of this world then you experience the universe embracing your with a resounding YES.

e. e. cummings always succeeds in capturing life’s little quintessential affirmations. I quote:

I thank you God for this amazing
Day: for the leaping greenly spirit of trees
And a blue dream of sky; and for everything
Which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes

The Erotic and the Holy
Marc Gafni

For more information on private study or to book a public teaching, contact Dr. Marc Gafni at support@ievolve.org

What does it mean to be fair?

Snow White

By Marc Gafni

What does it mean to be fair? In one sense being fair means to be just and good. To be fair is to be honest and have integrity.

Fairness implies appropriate weights and measure. To be fair means to give things the right weight and measure accurately.

When my sons were young the phrase that would indicate that they were the most upset or disturbed was the mixed English and Hebrew idiom, “Zeh Lo Fair.” It’s not fair. When they said that, they were appealing to a universal standard of the good and the just, which has ultimate natural authority.

The word “fair,” however has a second meaning as well. To be fair means to be beautiful. [Read more…]

Protest as Prayer (Part 15): Did he blow out the candles?

Candles Flickering

Photo Credit: Dey

 

By Marc Gafni

This post concludes the “Protest as Prayer” series. It is continued from post 14.

It was late one Friday night, with the Sabbath candles flickering in the darkness, when the Rebbe stood up. He had been especially pensive this night: wrapped in thoughts and prayers of his own. He walked purposefully to the table, spat on his hands and snuffed out the Sabbath candles. In the sudden darkness the shocked Chassidim heard the cold fury and despair in their Rebbe’s voice resounding in the gloom as he intoned: “There is no Judge, and there is no Judgment.”

Rebbe Menachem-Mendel of Kotsk then walked out of the synagogue, locked himself in his room, and never came out. For over twenty years until his death he remained in isolation and spoke not another word. But his Chassidim did not reject him as a blasphemer, nor a madman. In his silent solitary rage the Rebbe of Kotsk became more respected, more loved than ever before, as the Kotsker Chassidic tradition flourished in all its contradictions.

Somehow the Chassidim understood that ultimate Doubt, ultimate challenge, when conducted from within deep relationship, paradoxically can become the ultimate service, the ultimate worship.

 

Protest as Prayer (Part 14): Three Truths

Job

By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 13.

We began with three truths. God is good. God is powerful. Good people suffer. These are the three truths of Job. We hold all three. We can live in the deep and painful uncertainty of not always knowing how all three fit together. Those unable to hold the uncertainty emasculate God. This is Harold Kushner’s basic move. God can’t do anything about evil — God is nice but not powerful.

Others, unable to hold the uncertainty, emasculate man. That is pious orthodox thinker Gottlieb’s move. He has theo-logically solved the problem of suffering. He denies the rage, the protest, the unanswered question which defines Jewish text. He cannot live with the uncertainty of the question so he must argue that certainty has been achieved and the question answered.

Protest as Prayer (Part 13): There is a Spirit in Man

Wisdom

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney

 

By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 12.

One of the most striking formulations of the Yehuda Moment in Chassidut is the movement’s founder, the Baal Shem Tov’s, teaching on a verse in the Book of Job. The verse in Job reads “There is a spirit in man — the breath of God — which gives wisdom.”

These words, which appear towards the end of the book, are spoken by Elihu in rejection of the ‘punishment for sin’ theodicy offered as a certainty by Job’s friends. The Baal Shem Tov interprets the verse: ‘The breath of God is the spirit of man’. [Read more…]

Protest as Prayer (Part 12): On Secrets

Secret

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney

By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 11.

That this is true is mystery and mystery is esoteric — it is secret. Secret, not because, as it is usually explained, it is forbidden to reveal the mysteries to the uninitiated; rather, secret because it is not possible to reveal the mysteries at all. For if the soul is not ready to receive the mystery then the secret cannot be transmitted. The holy energy of uncertainty is in the realm of mystery. I cannot fully explain. Yet two guidelines for those who would struggle to understand are in order.

The Rebbe of Kutzk teaches about the old man and the young baby. They both ask the same questions. ‘How, When, What, Where – Ayeh?’ [Read more…]