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Upon reading Jay Michaelsons recent post “The Creeping Jewish Fundamentalism in our Midst” (http://forward.com/articles/177405/the-creeping-jewish-fundamentalism-in-our-midst/) I want to object to the term ‘fundamentalism’. If, in fact, the term is meant to describe the fundamental beliefs or practices of a faith, then it should NOT be used to describe overly strict, non-normative, or just plain wacky interpretations. Better to call those whose interpretations of religious belief and practice are intolerant, sexist, anti-compassionate, violent, and nasty something else: ‘extremists’. The fundamentals of all faiths which, unfortunately, have extremists at their far right and left edges, have little to do with the views held by those extremists. Fundamentals include love, acceptance, understanding, support, mutual cooperation, and recognition that Holiness is to be found among caring people, exhibiting tolerance, tenderness and expressing their understanding of spiritual truth without vitriol and intolerance. As a religious person, the REAL fundamentals of my faith matter; when fundamentals are misused, I call it extremism, not fundamentalism.
I was sick for the 49th day of the Omer and Shavuot, so wasn’t able to post anything at the end of the journey, but have some summary thoughts I want to share.
Pesach is about freedom: the Omer journey of 49 days is about learning what it is to be free. Shavuot is about guidance (Divine Guidance, that is). Freedom without guidance can result in random actions, impulsive behaviors, and dangerous explorations (think of many teens). At Shavuot we receive the great gift of Divine Guidance to help us use our freedom well. What do we need to do to actualize this gift?
1. Humility. Recognize that we don’t have many (if any) of the answers we need to make good use of our freedoms. Often, we struggle to even conceptualize the questions!
2. Openness. Being prepared to accept offered advice is a sign of maturity. Even being open to the possibility that guidance might be useful is crucial.
3. Resolve. Being humble enough to know we need guidance and being open to receive it are useless steps unless we gather the resolve to follow through. Resolve requires a sense of the possibility of a changed future.
4. Change. Not intention, not simply kavvanah (though that is necessary), but actual change in attitudes, behaviors, actions are the indicator of really accepting the guidance we are given.
Each year the guidance we need is different, but the process of humility, openness, resolve and change is the same. May this year’s process be transformational.
Foundation within Indwelling Presence
In building construction, the best foundations are often not the most rigid, but the ones that are designed to deal with changing soil and weather conditions. Our spiritual foundations need to have the same kind of resiliency, adaptability, flexibility to respond to the changing conditions of our inner landscapes. As we get VERY close to Shavuot, we realize that we have no idea what may be coming. All we can do, every day, actually, is to cultivate the kind of inner plasticity to ‘roll with the punches’ as difficulties arise, delight in good surprises when they come, and maintain our deep connection with the Source of All. This kind of foundation dwells deep within the Presence…and in each of us.
Splendor within Indwelling Presence
For many people, awe is the basis of our first spiritual experiences. Being amazed at a natural phenomenon is one accessible experience (tonight the clouds were illuminated by the setting sun, highlighted against the glowing mountains, for example). Feeling in touch with some larger reality, as at a birth or a death, is another. For others, it is the clarity that accompanies an intellectual realization. For still others, the sense of overcoming overwhelming odds and accomplishing a difficult task. In all these cases, we remember that there are many magnificent aspects of the Divine, each contributing, each facet magnifying and beautifying the Whole. Each of us is part of the splendor that is inextricably part of the Holy Presence, that One of which we are a part and which is a part of us. The prayer “Ayn od milvado”, loosely translated as “there is nothing except the Oneness” reminds us of the eternal unfolding in which we are honored to participate.
Endurance within Indwelling Presence
We’re on the home stretch toward Shavuot as we enter the last Shabbat of this year’s Omer journey. Having gotten this far on this daily practice is evidence of a certain kind of endurance, but it is just a hint of the kind of endurance we all need throughout our lives. One component of creating a new reality, or recognizing the new Reality which surrounds us daily, is patience. An important component of endurance is patience. The practice of meditation, an ancient Jewish practice as well as a spiritual technique used by many other religious traditions, is one of building the kind of internal patience needed to contribute to a world where Presence is not only present (which it is all the time) but a world where we are aware of that Presence. The Hebrew word for meditation is Hitbonenut, based on the root word Boneh, which refers to building. Let this Shabbat be one where we meditate, be in joy during Shabbat, and build our spiritual connections.
Harmony within Indwelling Presence
Today is Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the New Moon. Each new moon represents potential, hope, expectation. We are getting close to the fruition of the Omer period, anticipating that which will come on Shavuot. Each year, each month, each week, day and moment is full of revelation. Our job is to be open to see it, honor it, receive it…and then pass it on. Today, we particularly focus on harmony–the complex interplay between individual notes (or lives), which, together, form something completely new and interesting as a result of the interaction. We hold many often conflicting ideas, values and interests simultaneously–the challenge is to recognize the underlying harmony not to be distracted by the apparent disagreements.
Discernment within Indwelling Presence
Gevurah is sometimes called Judgment; here, the careful judgment between the good: those pearls of wisdom, relevant encounters and authentic spiritual experiences which enhance our Divine connection, and those other life events which distract us from Holy Oneness or masquerade as genuine, but are empty once the glitz has faded. Our search for valid spiritual connection requires examining our choices with wisdom, asking for guidance from appropriate sources, and acting with integrity.
Lovingkindness within Indwelling Presence
Today we enter the final week of Counting the Omer for this year. This seventh week is like Shabbat, a pause, an opportunity to reflect, refresh. We envision the world we desire and pray for, a world at peace. Lovingkindness flows into this final week, blending transcendent and immanent energies. We join our individual compassion with that of others, multiplying its power and bring that combined force into the Presence that dwells within us. What a force for the Good, for the Holy, for the Possible. Let us begin this final week of the Omer with enthusiasm and hope. We CAN change the world.
Indwelling Presence within Foundation
The Zohar says that if the world contains just one righteous person, that person sustains the world. Each of us has the opportunity to be that righteous person, to be the pillar that upholds the world. Remembering today that the Divine Presence is always within us, surrounding us, upholding us, inspiring us, we can find the inner motivation toward righteousness. We are part of a “Kingdom of Priests”; each of us is majestic, part of the Great Majesty. Today we treasure that inner Presence, allowing it to fortify our own foundations.
Foundation within Foundation
Or, perhaps, Foundation UPON Foundation. Some of you, my readers, know that I used to teach Architecture and Planning. In those fields, it was essential to know, in details, how each component of a building’s foundation functioned. Forces were carefully calculated, materials specified and details designed for stability, strength and appropriate flexibility for the soil conditions, building use, weather, etc. Today, we focus on the spiritual equivalent. Our inner structures are also made up on individual parts which we develop and nurture over the course of our lives. Under all, above all, and throughout all of these elements is the Element of the Divine, the ultimate support and design. Our individual spirits are the building blocks out of which G-d is fashioning the world each moment.