“We all have two lives. The second one begins when we realize we only have one.” (Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld)
As we approach the end of the secular year and the start of a new one, this is a great quote to live by… And as American Jews we have TWO opportunities to “start again.” I will post again next week, before the New Year, but let me just say that may 2017 be joyous, healthy, happy and successful for all of us!Yes, I know… I tempt fate by bringing in secular music to this blog… But as I have said before, both Judaism and music move me in profound ways. Sometimes, the two combine… and Rebbe Soul or the late, great Leonard Cohen are great examples of this… powerful, spiritual music with a deeply Jewish message.
There are many ideas that have stuck with me over the last two years, all since I came back from Israel in November of 2014, and began walking on this path. A few recent lessons have really distilled my Judaism into its purest form for me. While the teachings as a whole are deep and complex, I find it helpful, at times, to simplify things… to get a few practical basics down pat. It’s like Hillel’s famous quote to a man he converted:
“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is all of Torah in its entirety; the rest is commentary. Go and learn it!”
Levels, levels, levels… In the song, “Jacob’s Ladder”, written by Bruce Hornsby and Jonathan Hornsby and made famous by Huey Lewis And The News, he sings:
“Step by step, one by one, higher and higher
Step by step, rung by rung climbing Jacob’s ladder”
This to me is one of the true essences of Judaism… and one of three or four really potent ideas I think are essential. No, not the song per se… but the idea that we always need to be ON the ladder, never letting go, despite wind and rain… people trying to shake us off… flames licking our feet from below… or even a rung or two breaking.
Hopefully as we walk through life we will ascend and take steps up. But… we will probably also take some steps back down. Okay, no but… We will! The key is to hold on loosely and don’t let go. (Yes, you did hear that in a .38 Special song!) And why loosely and not tightly? Sometimes trying too hard has the opposite effect. Breathe, believe and put your trust and faith in Hashem. And if we stumble… or I should say WHEN we stumble, we always have the ability and opportunity to start again!
“Even though it’s complicated
We’ve got time to start again.”
(“Start Again” by Teenage Fanclub)
So the ladder analogy is one of those things to always remember, like a mantra or a chant… a practical guide to daily living.
Levels… This notion of levels presents itself in many aspects of Judaism, like the Four Levels of Learning Torah, which also corresponds to the Four/Five Levels of the World! (Assiah/Action, Yetzirah/Formation, Beri’ah/Creation, Atziluth/Emanation… and AdamKadmon/Primoridal Man).
The first level of studying Torah is P’shat, simply reading and understanding the text as is. “What does it actually say. Every word, phrase, and thought has a meaning, there is no word that is redundant or idle. Even if it appears to be, it is not. It is filled with meaning for us to learn.”
The second level is Drash, “where truth and principle are presented. Truth can only be truth if it is confirmed. Confirmation as we know must come in the form of evidence and evidence must be at least two or three witnesses.”
The third level is Remez, or “the underlying theme or story that is told while speaking of other things. It is how prophecy is laid into the story of history.”
And the fourth level is Sod, “the mysterious and coded level. This involves the understanding of numbers along with the meaning associated with certain numerical values. For example, the number 1 represents “Echad” or Oneness, “Two” represents struggle, division or witness, etc. This level also involves the meanings of names.”
As we move to higher levels of Torah and Torah study, so do our souls ascend into the higher worlds. Up and up and up! And the study of Gematria (the Aleph Beit and numbers) which I am working on now, is both enlightening and fascinating!
Kabbalah also teaches us that there are Five Levels Of The Soul… and yes, they also correspond to the Levels Of The World!
Nefesh is the life force, the awareness of the physical body and physical world.
Ruach is instinct, where we become aware of our emotions, especially love and awe… and also G-dliness.
Neshamah is the understanding of Divine energy, where “understanding” is key. It is the “notion of coming into being from nothingness, rather than structured, quantified existence.”
Chayyah is the level that may require a nice Scotch… or something that was just legalized in our last election… “Whereas the primary activity of the level of Neshama is to use intellectual comprehension in order to come to communion with G‑d as the Creator of the worlds, the level of Chaya communes with G‑d as He transcends the worlds.” At this level we realize that G-d “is not limited or defined by the finite universe… This is knowledge of the absolute truth of things.”
Yechidah is the highest level and “corresponds to the pure and transcendent world of Adam Kadmon…” It is about the “original Infinite Light (Ohr Ein Sof)… the essence of the soul which is naturally and immutable bound to the Holy One.”
Thanks to Kabbalah Online for the quotes and definitions.
The one final essence I’d like to share is along the lines of Hillel and deals with Lovingkindness. Reading the book by the Choffetz Chaim is a great start, but one only need remember what my local Chabad Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky says… “Be a Mensch and always do the right thing.”
I’ll see you all on the way up… but if we stumble, let’s catch each other as we fall.