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.
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...
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Marc Gafni, master of the chant, offers a glimpse into his devotional heart:
See more videos in the Unique Self Video Blog series.
Whether the relationship is that of a servant to his master or a lover and his beloved or a relationship between partners or even friends, they are all “relating” to God.
The most powerful form of God in the second person is almost certainly the prayer experience. It is told that when Hassidic master Levi Yitzchak of Beridchev used to pray he would begin the standard liturgical form of blessing. “Baruch Ata Adonai,” “Blessed are you God,” and then break out of the mold of blessing crying out in sheer joy, ” YOU… YOU”¦ YOU”¦ YOU!” He would lose himself in these words repeatedly shouting in ecstasy, “YOU… YOU”¦ YOU!!!” This is the rapture of God in the second person.
For Levi Yitzchak the blessing is a kind of Buddhist pointing out instruction. It points however not to sunyata or emptiness but to God in the second person. Nachman of Bratzlav taught the spiritual practice of Hitbodedut. In one form this meant walking alone in the forest “talking to God as you would to your friend.”
In God in the second person we meet God and bow. In God in the second person we meet God and partner. In God in the second person we meet God and love. The key however is the encounter. It is the encounter with God in history and in the lived reality of every human being that is the essence of the God in the second person experience.
Dr. Marc Gafni
The Dance of Tears
We want to thank Adael Bullock for assembling a collection of reflections and personal sharing from the recent Shalom Mountain Wisdom School fall event.
With Marc Gafni teaching at the retreat center in New York, the topic of Unique Self was at the fore. Accordingly, several of the reflections were inspired by this teaching. Enjoy “Spark of Creation,” “In Your Faces,” and “May I Suggest.” … and there’s more to follow in the days ahead.
“Spark of Creation”
A Unique Self Prayer
By Liza Braude-Glidden
Spark of Creation, Beginning of Beginnings,
Let Your Holy Embodied Love live through each of us uniquely
Help us turn every event towards its best place in love’s mandala.
In Your sweet generosity, bring me all that’s uniquely mine,
To love, heal, create, destroy ””
As You were in the beginning, so You unfold through me and blossom,
You hear my laughter, pain and joy. You know the name inside my name.
All of us can rest in You as You hold each beauty and sacrifice,
And Your love, personal, intimate and divine, always begins and never ends.
We yearn – in our deepest hearts – not to take but to give, and in that giving to deeply receive. Sexuality is the model for this, because there one single act contains within it both giving and receiving. The same is true, however, in all of our relationships. Every interpersonal relation is an iridescent web of exchange. We each have a piece of each other’s story. A lover’s exchange is when I invest myself in our relationship sufficiently – that over time I share with you the piece of your story which I carry with me, and I receive from you the piece of my story that you carry with you. It may be an idea, an experience, a perspective, a song, a moment of intimacy or a thousand other possibilities. The nature of the world is that every significant meeting we have is choreographed in order to return to us a precious missing piece.
It is said that a true master is only able to give to his disciple if he is first able to fully receive him. This is accomplished by finding the spark of the disciple in his soul.
One Sunday morning the Mittler Master was seen to be exceedingly troubled. When queried by his students, he replied – Whenever someone comes to me with a sin – I help him to heal by first finding that sin in myself. This morning however someone came to me but I cannot help, for I cannot find it in myself.
In the written tradition the story ends here. In the inner circle it is told that a man whose wife had died, had come to the master. The man had refused to bury his wife immediately; instead he had sexual intercourse with her lifeless body several times before he took her for burial. The master simply did not know how to receive this story in himself and was thus unable to give healing. That is until the following morning when he is reported to have come to prayer services full of good spirit. Apparently he had found a way to locate this sin in himself. How? He answered, “In my prayer, I kept dancing in ecstasy for a few seconds after the ecstasy had gone!”
Israel, Master of the name, said to each student, “I am dependent on you; without you a part of my teaching can never be heard in the world.” And so it is with us. For we are all teachers and all students. And so it is with God. Every human being is a prism which can uniquely refract a particular color in the spectrum of divine light. We are all God’s faces.
The Erotic and the Holy
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.
Note: This article consists of 15 parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15.
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.
Note: This post is continued in Part 15.
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’.
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?’
By Marc Gafni
This post is continued from Part 9.
To go one step further — God feels the pain of the sufferer through the agency of human beings who feel the pain of other. God feels, not only but also through, human agency. We are God’s emotions.
Based on this understanding a number of mystical writers provide us with the vocabulary to re-think the idea of God’s Kingship. It was with this quandry that I introduced the problematics of God-language in a world that suffers. How can we call God King?
By Marc Gafni
This post is continued from Part 8.
The implication of this Kabbalistic strain of thought needs to be unpacked more fully. One of the core ideas in the Lurianic understanding of the religious act is the need to identify with the pain of the Shechina in exile. According to the Talmudic masters the divine presence — the Shechina — is exiled with the Jewish people. In one of the most daring affirmations of divine intimacy, the Talmudic teachers and later the kabbalistic masters insist that the transcendent God of the Bible becomes incarnate in the suffering of the Jewish people (and, I would add, of all people).
By Marc Gafni
This post is continued from Part 7.
An early Kabbalistic text, Bahir, declares that there are ten levels which link the world of the divine with the world of man. Each one of these ten levels of divine presence represents another dimension of God in our world. They are referred to as the Ten Sefirot. When we perform a commandment, says Luria, we participate in one of these levels of the divine.
Indeed the mystical writers point out that the word ”˜Mitzvah’ has more than one meaning. Simply of course it is man’s commandment. The human in doing a mitzvah is thus seen as responding to a divine command which comes from outside the human being.
There is however a second sense of the word Mitzvah. It means Tzavtah — to be together with. When one performs a mitzvah one literally merges with divinity. One is together with God. In the mystical understanding, each Mitzvah moves me toward merger with a different Sefira, a different level of divinity. However, says Luria, we are only able to participate in the lowest seven levels. The human being, trapped in mortality, can never touch the highest three levels of divinity in this world. And yet one word can reach the heights. Ayeh.
Ayeh in Hebrew has three letters, alef, yod, hey. Alef, says Luria, is the letter that represents Keter — the divine crown, the highest sefirah – the level of divinity in the world. Yod represents Chochmah — wisdom, the second highest level. And Hey is Binah — intuitive understanding, the third highest level. When the human being cries out to God in uncertainty — ayeh — he expresses the highest three levels of divinity and in so doing reaches beyond his mortal limits to touch “the highest.” Luria affirms that the expression of uncertainty in God does not contradict spirituality, but rather is the highest expression of the human search for divine connection.
Ayeh — where are you — the ultimate uncertainty — is then the highest level of religious authenticity!
Note: This post is continued in Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15.
By Marc Gafni
This post is continued from Part 6.
The pinnacle of Ayeh cries out in the biblical story of the binding of Isaac. Isaac turns to his father and asks, “Ayeh? Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Many commentators recognize that in asking this question Isaac is beginning to understand the nature of his silent journey with his father. For three days he has walked beside his father in tense silence, and now without even meeting his son’s eyes, Abraham asks the servants to stay behind as the two of them climb the mountain alone. Laboring up the incline with the kindling weighing heavily on his back, noticing the knife and firestone in his father’s hand, Isaac feels a terrible darkness approaching. Can his father truly be intending to hurt him? When Isaac speaks we feel the shattering inside, the destruction of the child within, the death of the child’s innocence: ”˜Father!’ – he says – and father answers, ”˜Yes my son.’ ”˜Here are the firestone and the wood; but where – ayeh – is the lamb for the burnt offering?’
For the Ishbitzer Isaac’s Ayeh is the embrace of God in uncertainty.
“Ayeh?” Isaac cannot suffer the uncertainty in silence. A child at the beginning of his life’s climb through uncertainty, Isaac’s question reaches the highest place.
Kabbalist R. Isaac Luria comments on this word ayeh — where is God — in the liturgy of Shabbat, when we paraphrase the text in Isaiah and say, “Ayeh mekom kevodo? — God, where is the place of your involvement in the world?”
Just as ulai has become our indicator of deep uncertainty in biblical text, so ayeh can be seen as the code word for the deepest questioning of the justice of God.
Note: This post is continued in Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15.
This post is continued from Part 5.
By Marc Gafni
R’ Nachman, I would suggest did not originate this understanding of Ayeh — rather it emerges out of a tradition of Biblical ”˜Ayeh’ stories.
In the book of Judges, a messenger of God comes to Gideon at a time in which Israel has suffered greatly at the hand of the Midianite nation. The messenger of God offers certainty to Gideon: “God is with you, hero of valor,” and Gideon rejects this pat offer of security: “You tell me that God is with us? Then why is all this…” He cannot even give it a name. The silent questions ring out in the spaces between the words: ”˜Why has all this suffering, why has all this pain, defined our lives for so many years? Why are men killed? Why are children orphaned?’ And the text goes on: “”˜Ayeh’- where are all of his great wonders of which our Fathers told us, saying God took us out of the land of Egypt. And now, God has abandoned us.”
Gideon the Judge, in the tradition of Abraham, turns to God and says, “Does the Judge of the entire world not do justice?” Gideon the Judge challenges God, challenges the messenger and challenges the message. The divine response seems unclear, enigmatic and troubling; but also powerful, inspiring and deeply directive. God answers Gideon: “Go with this strength of yours and save Israel … behold, I have sent you.” (Judges 6: 12-14)
What “strength” is God referring to? I would suggest, and at least one Midrash implicitly supports my reading, that God meant: ”˜Go forth with the power of your uncertainty.’ God is confirming that if Gideon has the ability to doubt that this is the best of all possible worlds, this means he shares a common moral language with God. The wrestling with God in itself implies messengership on behalf of the divine: “Behold, I have sent you.” God confirms the Chassidic tale that initiated this chapter: to grapple with God is indeed to touch God, and to enter into the wrestling ring is to be a representative of all Israel, to plead redemption for all the world.
Gideon says to God’s messenger: “Where, ayeh, are all of His great wonders?” — echoing Moses’ and Abraham’s uncertainty about God’s dealings in the world.
Note: This post is continued in Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15.
This post is continued from Part 4.
By Marc Gafni
Said differently, by holding uncertainty and not settling for explanations of suffering that our soul intuitively rejects, we reach a higher certainty — the certainty of rage. It may well be that in a century that has seen one hundred million people brutally killed the only path back to God is the certainty of rage. Those who deny the holiness of our anger deny God.
Babies are part of our core certainty. They remind us of all that is pure. They somehow cut though our posturing and touch something deep inside us. Have you ever seen a baby brought into an office — no matter how serious the office — grown men and women almost immediately revert to baby talk, to goo goo gaga. Babies cry out for our protection. They call us to rise to our highest selves. Perhaps this is what Leah understood for the first time as she looked down at little Judah. Until Judah’s birth Leah had been so intent on using her children to get Jacob that she hadn’t really seen them. Only when she gives up her need for Jacob is she able to see her baby. It is from this place she cries out — “I have found myself before God.”
Babies being ripped apart — my mother’s youthful vision — destroy that core certainty. “Where Is God” writes Weisel, “he is hanging on the gallows”…. In the body of a young boy. Incarnation is reversed in the horror of suffering. God becomes human and dies on the gallows. In the reversal is the death of God about which some post-holocaust theologians wrote with such pathos. The Biblical response is different. Biblical men and women work their way back to God, not through pious imprecations justifying God nor through pathos-filled announcements of God’s demise, but through the certainty of rage.
Note: This post is continued in Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15.
This post is continued from Part 3.
By Marc Gafni
R. Nachman of Bratzlav, in a profound and daring teaching, reveals the light shimmering in Alyosha’s speech. It is a teaching on the word ”˜Ayeh’. Ayeh in Hebrew means where, in the sense of ‘where is God?
Ayeh encapsulates in one word Alyosha’s entire oration. I want to share with you R. Nachman’s teaching directly, in my trans-interpretation of the original Hebrew text. The bracketed words are my additions:
By Marc Gafni
Note: This post is continued from Part 2.
It is this paradox that Dostoyevsky in Brothers Karamazov does not fully grasp. He does not understand that the rage of Ivan is the rage of ”˜heresy that is faith.’ Ivan, responding to Alyosha’s certainty of belief, has just described to him the brutal murder of a child torn apart by dogs for sport. Ivan’s uncertainty burns with the fiery anger of faith:
Although the passage is longer than what one would usually expect in a quoted text, it is so germane to our theme and so compelling that I did not shorten it. Thus I invite my dear reader to experience the truth and power of Ivan’s plea. He needs to be read as a modern echo of Abraham’s cry “Will the judge of the entire world not do justice?”
By Marc Gafni
Note: This post is continued from part 1.
It is to this paradox that we will now turn. We dance in the paradox of certainty and uncertainty. As we hear of recent tragedies in the world — hurricanes, earthquakes, and last year’s catastrophe in Japan — we enter into a space of desperately grappling with God within the uncertainty.
Where are you God? Where are you within me and within the word? Within the very recesses of the uncertainty however is a powerful experience of certainty — of the non-dual realization of I Am. It is in I Am, when I experience the core certainty of self, and therefore of my divinity — of my being loved by God. This experience is not only not in contradiction to the question, it wells up from the question itself. In the question is God. The question is the answer.
Note: This post is continued in Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15.
By Marc Gafni
The mandate of biblical consciousness demands that the human being enter into partnership with God in the task of perfecting the world. The classical expression of this in the lineage of Kabbalah is the obligation of Tikkun. Tikkun means not merely to hear or to fix but to be co-creative evolutionary partners with the divine.
By Marc Gafni
We are all despearate for communion. It is what makes our lives worth living. Communion is the movement from loneliness to loving. It is the experience of being held and received.
We are all systematically mis-recognized. To be recognized is to be seen. To be seen is to be loved. To be love is to be in communion. It is only when we are seen that we are called to the fullness of our glimmering beauty as unique incarnations of the the divine treasure. It is only when we are seen that we feel moved the personal evolutionary impulse that lives in us to give the unique gifts that are only ours to give and that are desperately desired by the all that is.
To be in communion is to know that Your deed is God’s need. It is the realization of communion that gives us joy and calls us to evolutionary responsibility.