Va’era: Moshe’s Spiritual Curriculum to Expand His Window of Tolerance from Impulsive Acts of Justice to Cultivated Leadership of a People in Service of God
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 Va’era, 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:
Let’s begin with a quick review of what came the week before in Shemot. We witnessed the birth of the vigilante, for example in the midwives called Shifra and Puah, Moshe’s mother, Yocheved, and sister, Miriam, and Moshe, who ha this internal moral compass known as Fear of God that allows her/him to know what is just and and what is evil, and when s/he should refrain from immoral acts. And at the same time, we witnessed the rise of a nation-state that will use public policy to practice infanticide and to enslave a people. These impulses are not mutually exclusive and may be viewed as part of the unfolding of knowledge of the Divine and with that knowledge how one is obligated to bear the burden of the other. It is integrity/morality against structural racism and slavery. With this new relationship with God that we will witness unfold in Va’era and throughout the book of Exodus, the birth of rule of law through what we call Torah will slowly replace vigilantism (although not it’s impulse).
As we witness a shift from Moshe doing acts of justice for individuals to attempting to free a people with the Alimighty, we too witness God shift from “I did not make myself know to them (the patriarchs) by My name YHVH,” to the all powerful YHVH who displays divine might. Our ancestors, the patriarchs, did not experience the essential power associated with the name YHVH because they had no need to experience this. They were simply individuals, embarking on a new relationship with God in a new land. 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.
One of the foundational understandings of Mussar is that if we do not choose to be mindful of and address our spiritual curriculum and need for growth, then God through what we call “life” will visit it upon us, thereby giving us the opportunity to change, though usually unpleasant and sometimes with suffering. And this is how we may understand the plagues that YHVH visits upon the Egyptians and Paro. They may be retributive, coercive, and educative, and their impact was that both the Egyptians and the Israelites came to “know” God. For example, it is only after all the plagues that the Egyptians displayed their Fear of God and their mutuality and concern for the Israelites by sharing their gold and goods with them. This can be seen as restorative justice, not unlike what we witness Yaakov do for Esav after not seeing him for twenty years and stealing his birthright and blessing. He gave him 550 animals as if to say, I owe you this for what I did to you.
And finally, we return to Moshe, who, as you may recall from last week’s Torah portion, Shemot, suffered from unbalanced Humility. It was his spiritual curriculum that he was not ready to take up more space as a promoter of justice and a responder of injustice when God called upon him to help free this people from slavery. He was balanced when caring for individuals but not when it came to facing a representative (Paro) of a nation-state (Egypt) and caring for a whole people. Emotional states of fear and doubt, and negative thoughts of inadequacy plagued Moshe. He was not able to practice and come to some balance to be able to serve until he was supplied support from his older brother, Aharon.
God, too, will shift responses and practice differently as God learns what helps balance Moshe and what does not. And God too will have to learn again and again. As Moshe learns to bear the burden of God’s unfolding plan to demonstrate God’s power and presence, Moshe learns to stop harboring unrealistic optimism in the discharge of his mission. As Moshe watches Paro harden his own heart and then God harden Paro’s heart, Moshe must practice to not harden his own heart. He must practice Forbearance/Savlanut (סבלנות) to not become demoralized.
As we close for today, we engage in the inquiry was what balances us? What balances our middah of Humility/Anavah (ענוה), so that we can call on our middah of Courage/Ometz Lev (אומץ לב) to address injustice and live with integrity like we witness our ancestor, Moshe, do? For Moshe, it wasn’t that God was with him Trust in God/Bitachon or that he witnessed miracles. No, what strengthened Moshe was being paired with human support from a family member, his brother Aharon. What is it for you? It is taking refuge in our community, in a Va’ad or Sangha, in God or the Buddha, in the Torah and/or the Dharma? Part of the spiritual discipline of Mussar Mindfulness is assessing what are your particular needs for self-care to be able to be of service to others and God.
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.
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?
If you answered no to any of these, then you know where your practice is for this present moment. One breath at a time. One day at a time. One situation at a time. As we say in the Jewish tradition:
Podcast Audio Below:
Awakening Behar: Torah Mussar Mindfulness, 33rd Sitting – Mussar Mindfulness with Rabbi Chasya of The Institute for Holiness: Kehilat Mussar
Listen to the podcast: https://anchor.fm/mussar-mindfulness
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