THE JEWISH SABBATH
By Rabbi Niles Goldstein
Next year, we will be focusing on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, as our core theme. I thought it might be of use to reflect on the ideas of two very important Jewish thinkers--one agnostic, one religious--on this important subject. Consider this your brief summer reading assignment.
Erich Fromm, the renowned psychoanalyst, discusses how the Sabbath embodies the integration of the material and the spiritual. For him, the Sabbath—one of the core institutions in biblical religion—is the expression of freedom in its fullest form. Yet it is a freedom grounded in the ideas of giving up and of giving over.
In traditional Judaism and Christianity, the Sabbath is a day when we refrain from work. As Fromm writes, "By not working—that is to say, by not participating in the process of natural and social change—man is free from the chains of time, although only for one day a week." The Sabbath is our anticipation of messianic time, a taste of eternity we can experience if we choose to.
In Fromm's view of his own Jewish tradition, it is not work that is a supreme value, but "rest," the state that has no other purpose than that of being human. Since Fromm was a humanist as well as a psychoanalyst, the Sabbath probably seemed to him a wonderful vehicle for character development and self-actualization.
Yet for Abraham Joshua Heschel, an important and immensely influential modern rabbi, the Sabbath is the point of synthesis between the psycho-spiritual and the aesthetic. On the Sabbath, every one of us has the potential to become an artisan of the soul, to create, what he calls, "palaces in time." But that spiritual architecture is contingent on our helping to construct it—without its builders doing their job, the palace will never be realized. The paradox is that our work and our freedom are the result of simply being. When we dwell in the palace, and when we allow the palace to dwell in us, we create a harmony of mind and spirit, of human and divine.
What might the Sabbath mean to you? How can you best incorporate this powerful inheritance and gift into your own life?
Sunday, June 22, 2008
THE JEWISH SABBATH
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I didn’t know I wanted to become a Bat Mitzvah until I heard about this course. I did know that with my son Dylan’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah (now 3 months before mine), I found myself envious of the education he was getting. When I was thirteen, only the very observant families had Bat Mitzvahs, and had I had the opportunity then, I am certain I would have declined. In fact in those days I felt myself lucky to be considered part of the Jewish community without having had the burdens of learning Hebrew, or strict religious observance. Until he died, now 36 years ago, my father who was raised orthodox, was Jewish enough for the whole family.
Now I have my own family, and am the one my husband and son turn to as a resource for Jewish history and practice. Too often I find myself saying, “ I don’t know “, and more important thinking to myself that I wish I knew. Too often I have found myself feeling that something is missing from my Jewish experience, but not able to put my finger on what it is. One thing for sure is that as synagogues have included more Hebrew in their services, I have felt less a part of the community. I look forward beginning a relationship with the Hebrew language as part of this program.
More important I have discovered, for so many years my “Jewish experience” has not been totally mine. I gave responsibility for my experience to my ad hoc Jewish communities; to the temples I attended at the time, the rabbi’s I heard sermonize, and to the family traditions established by my parents, and shared with my siblings. By participating in the above, I maintained an acceptable level of “Jewish-ness” in my life at the appropriate times of the year. For my own spiritual education, inspiration and transformation I actively looked to other communities. Healing with the Theosophists and Science of Mind-ers, Drumming with the Shamans; Meditating with the Buddhists, to name a few.
Our recent membership in The New Shul, and my participation in the Adult B’nai Mitzvah program, represents my taking responsibility for my “Jewish experience”. I am exploring in my own backyard the history, traditions, literature and power of community. From the riches I find here I will be creating a new any very personal Jewish Experience. Accompanying me in this process, though on their own journeys, Rabbi Niles, and my co-students Carol Moore, Susan Buckler, Daniel Ray, and Sasha Malamud share their questions and discoveries that enlighten my path. Clearly this is a process that will take time. On my Bat Mitzvah day I will only have completed a beginning…as I will have been exposed to just enough to know how much more there is available in Judaism. Just as Dylan at 13 is in preparing to be Bar Mitzvah, to begin taking responsibility for his Jewish life, in becoming a Bat Mitzvah at 51, am reclaiming the responsibility for my own.
There have been some wonderful surprises so far. Though we have selected different activities for our ethical mitzvot, Dylan and I have selected the same ritual mitzvot. At bedtime, we lie down together and say the Sh’ma. This special time brings to mind a portion of the V’ahavta that I memorized long before it had meaning to me."...thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children and shall speak of them when thou liest down and when thou risest up…” In fact until we started doing the Sh’ma together, that phrase was just another “commandment to be obeyed” No one ever mentioned the joy that would come of it!
Monday, June 9, 2008
KABBALAH & NaRaN
By Rabbi Niles E. Goldstein
Last night marked Erev Shavuot, the time Jews celebrate--through song and study--the giving of the Torah to our ancestors and the ongoing covenantal relationship between God and the Jewish people. We explored the Kabbalistic idea of the human soul, known by its acronym NaRaN: nefesh (the soul at its most primal and impulsive), ruach (the soul we live with on an everyday basis, our sense of self), and neshamah (the soul at its highest, most transcendent form). NaRaN represents the composite of who we are as spiritual beings. Each one of these aspects within us is related to the other--our challenge is to integrate them all in a healthy way.
I explained how the Kabbalistic notion of the soul contained echoes of Aristotle, who, nearly 2,000 years earlier, had discussed the nutritive, sensitive, and rational elements of the soul. Others around the table--our study tish--mention how similar NaRaN sounded to the Freudian ideas of the id, ego, and superego. It was clear to all of us that no one can "dwell" in any one of these areas within us permanently, that we are all in a constant state of flux and fluidity, journeying up and down our higher and lower orders of the soul throughout our lives. And if even who we are is so elusive, it made many of us more comfortable with the feeling that it was okay for God to be elusive. Judaism has a great gift to offer us--the teaching that, despite life and all it ambiguities, we are still allowed, even mandated, to celebrate it.
Embracing ambiguity is hard work, but it can serve as the conduit to ever deeper relationships with ourselves, other people, and, ultimately, with God.
We are launching our second ever adult B'nai Mitzvah class for members.
Are you a member of The New Shul community who has wondered what it would be like to experience the joyous rite of passage of becoming a bar or bat mitzvah? Did you ever want to learn how to chant from the Torah, study and understand Jewish prayers, customs, and spiritual teachings, write a d'var Torah (your own teaching on the Torah portion), and celebrate with--and in front of--your peers? Well, it's never too late to take part in this spiritual journey. This year, Rabbi Goldstein and madricha (guide/tutor) Melanie Sylvan will be leading a small group of adults through the deeply meaningful b'nai mitzvah process, and we're encouraging you to be part of it.
The group will meet for monthly seminars with Rabbi Goldstein and/or Melanie Sylvan from September through April to study Torah and Haftarah, practice the morning Shacharit service prayers and songs, learn the Torah cantillations (trope), explore rabbinic commentaries and discuss the parasha that you will be chanting to become B'nai Mitzvah. Each participant will be given three private tutoring sessions with Melanie and a personalized audio tape of the blessings and Torah verses for home study and practice. As the ceremony approaches, Rabbi Goldstein and Melanie will help you develop your individual d'var Torah. In April you, along with the other members of the group, will be called to the Torah as a bar/bat mitzvah.
The fee for the program is $1250. No prior knowledge of Hebrew is necessary. Space is limited, and we must receive your deposit of $500 by June 30th.
If you are interested in learning more please email Melanie at email@example.com or call the office at 212-284-6773. The class is limited to 6 people and you must sign up by June 30th.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
* A Personal Invitation from Rabbi Goldstein
On Sunday night, Erev Shavuot (June 8), following our ritual celebration and dinner, I will be leading an interactive and intellectually action-packed journey into the Kabbalah's take on what constitutes the true nature of the human soul. Since Shavuot is the Jewish festival that marks the moment of revelation between God and Israel, it is often considered one of the most spiritual of all Jewish holy days. We will be exploring what exactly spirituality is, how we relate to God, and then try to unravel the three different levels of soul--NaRaN (Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah)--that the Kabbalists believed made up our inner worlds. Come with an open mind and be prepared to share some of your own spritual odysseys with us! No prior knowledge of Kabbalah is necessary.