Bo: New Era in Torah; Rule of Law Begins; God as Agent of Compassion in Human History; Divine Moral Impulse of ידע, זכר, ושמר (Know God=Fear God=Moral Compass, Remembering Obligates, Observe as Practice to Know & Remember) now at the Center of Covenant
Welcome to Awakening: Torah Mussar MIndfulness, where we at The Institute for Holiness: Kehilat Mussar meet weekly at 15:00/3pm EST on Sundays to learn from the Torah/Hebrew Bible portion that we just observed on the Jewish Sabbath/Shabbat. You may join us on Zoom (link here) or LIVE on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. All sessions are recorded and can be found at our website (www.kehilatmussar.com) in the Blog section.
Before we begin delving into the weekly Torah/Hebrew Bible portion/parasha, this week being Bo, we pray that our Intention/Kavannah be of learning Torah, Mussar, and the Dharma together and practicing Mussar Mindfulness. We commit to learn and practice together once a week to strengthen our Middot/soul-traits and souls, to be of service to others and God/Hashem; indeed, to bring God’s Good to others.
We always begin our practice with our Kavanah/Intention for today’s practice: to do this type of practice and care as an act of self-care and to connect us with the Divine, and ultimately, to other people. So, before doing this engagement of learning and practice together we say: this is something I am doing to strengthen my own soul in order to be of benefit to others in the future; and then our last paragraph: this is something that I’m doing to strengthen my relationship with the Creator so that I can be a better conduit of God’s Good to others when they need me. (See below)
We use the first and third Kavanot/Intentions listed below for today’s learning and practice:
Rabbi Chasya’s COVID & Hostage Prayer
As we delve into week’s Torah portion, we want to enter with the lens of Mussar Mindfulness of the “I-Don’t-Know-Mind”…the Beginner’s Mind. We enter with a balanced Anavah/Humility that we have something to learn from this. That I am not always right. The concept of Mara in Buddhism is similar to the Yetzer Hara in Judaism, where there is this evil impulse, the impulse to do that which is not wise, that which may be harmful to self and others. And with Mara, the classic three that interfere with learning are: Rididity (I am right); the Guru mind of Arrogance (I am the expert); and Low Self-Worth (too much Humility) (I am not enough mind). Our job is to recognize if we have any of these voices or states or impulses that might interfere with our getting the most we can out of this week’s Torah portion.
Chapter 2:10: Major signs and wonders have been and will come from God, called plagues, so that we ALL will know God. The Egyptians and the Children of Israel. It will be our people, the whole Israelite nation, that will require a new way of knowing God, now through the name YHVH. Knowing YHVH “means witnessing or being made to experience the display of the divine might (Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, p.31). And as you may recall from last week’s Torah portion, Shemot, to “know” (י.ד.ע) God is to encompass such qualities as contact, intimacy, concern, relatedness, and mutuality (JPS, p.5). The Children of Israel were being called into a relationship that will test their mutual concern for each other and God. And it is with the lens and tools of Mussar Mindfulness that we can witness the spiritual curriculum of a whole people now, instead of just one individual.
However, let us recall that miraculous signs displaying God’s might did not function as God intended with Moshe. Moshe was not moved to Courage and balanced Humility from miracles. Rather it was the support of his older brother Aharon that brought his spiritual curriculum into more balance. So when we witness these signs and wonders that cause pain, damage and suffering of the Egyptians and Paro, know that we are “knowing” Divine power and acts that are needed in an acute situation such as removing a people from slavery and bondage. It is a type of “knowing” that cannot be sustained and we will witness this in the 40 years in the desert.
In Chapter 10:7, Paro’s servants are the first Egyptians to testify to their experience of “knowing” the God of Israel. They tell Paro to let the people go to worship their God as this God has already caused Egypt enough damage. The knowing is an awareness of the unpleasantness of the experience of God and an aversion to experiencing more knowledge of this God.
This parasha also reflects the complexity of the human being that when faced with God’s power and this knowledge, that knowing does not necessarily change human behavior or sustains the change over time. That will require something else. What did Moshe need? The other.
We learn from Mussar Mindfulness that the human being requires a beautiful cocktail in which to take refuge: 1) God and the wisdom of the Buddha; 2) community known as a Va’ad and/or Sangha; 3) Torah/Mussar and the Dharma, the lifelong path and journey of daily learning and practice leading to Kedusha/Holiness; 4) and master-teachers to lead us along the way. It is not by miracles alone that Moshe, Bnei Yisrael and we will change, grow, and transform. No, we require a multi-layered approach that is God-centered, Torah-centered, Community-Centered, and Compassionate Self-Care-Centered.
We witness the beginning of this training toward Holiness, toward Mussar Mindfulness, when God commands Bnei Yisrael, the Israelites, to ask/borrow gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbors/friends. While traditional Rabbinic commentaries will address this commandment from the question if this “borrowing” is ethical or not (see Sforno and Rabbeinu Hannanel on Shemot 12:35-36), my concern does not lie here. Rather, I believe that God in God’s wisdom is commanding the Israelites to leave their homes independently for the first time as a free people to request something from the very people who murdered their first born sons and supported their enslavement. This radical kabalah, a curriculum assigned by God, is meant to stretch the Israelites out of their comfort zone to begin behaving in wise ways full of integrity that will become part of their spiritual curriculum during the 40 years in the desert.
So what is it for a slave to be able to leave their home on their own terms, knock on the master’s door for all intensive purposes, the privileged class, and request gold and silver? Make it part of your practice right now with a contemplation of just how difficult that must have been for the Israelites. The slave by nature is not a human being who is habituated to asking for and demanding what s/he needs. And the privileged class of institutional slavery, the Egyptians, were also stretched with this practice, with this kabalah. They were given the opportunity to make a small financial restitution, a act toward teshuva, an act of reconciliation. It is an act of great compassion on the part of God to give the Egyptians this opportunity to assist the Israelites rather than to perpetuate their suffering.
The Israelites are commanded to remember this day (this), the Exodus, perhaps, with a ritual of food consumption and food abstinence. We are to eat matzah. We are to refrain from eating chametz/leavened food. At the core of the human’s survival is the mindful, wise consumption of food, for the sake of remembering. For the sake of being in relationship. For the sake of serving God.
In closing, we are witnesses to a great cosmic Divine moral compass and trajectory that moves from knowing (י.ד.ע) God by fearing God, to remembering (ז.כ.ר) God and your obligation to others, to now in Parasha Bo observing/protecting (ש.מ.ר) what you are to know and remember. In God’s great wisdom and our ancestors’ great wisdom and gift, they have passed onto us the commandments and spiritual practices of Judaism and in Mussar Mindfulness so that we can be a part of this great arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).
Our practice: reflect for 5 minutes daily in the Cheshbon Hanefesh journal:
What are we to do? What are we to learn from the Torah text and our ancestors? How are we to practice?
- Do you care for yourself properly to strengthen your ability to care for others?
- Do you recognize when you move from unpleasant to suffering?
- Do you know God? A type of knowing that compels you to bear the burden of the other and to bring God’s Good to others?
Podcast Audio Below:
We honor God, our practice, our ancestors, our community, our Torah, and Dharma. I am honored to be your teacher and to be here together in order to enable offerings like this. We rely on your donations of any amount to offer these teachings and sitting. This donation is called Dana in the Pali, a tradition of Insight Buddhist Meditation, and Terumah in Hebrew, a tradition of Judaism. On behalf of The Institute for Holiness: Kehilat Mussar, I thank you for your donation.
We also accept sponsorships for our weekly teaching and sitting that are in honor of someone or in memory of someone, may their memory be for a blessing. Sponsorships are $50 to sponsor one day of teaching and we include your honoree or deceased in the announcements and teaching so that we may lift up their souls and merit our practice together to make this a better world.