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Using Kabbalah Today

May 6, 2011

Using Kabbalah Today

Kabbalah has become very attractive in recent years, having drawn the attention of celebrities such as Madonna, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore vis-à-vis the time they spent at The Kabbalah Centre. While the spiritual possibilities embodied in the mystical teachings of Kabbalah are great, the simple truth is that penetrating its texts is quite complicated.

The three books that make up the essence of Kabbalah, called the Zohar, are written in Aramaic. If that weren’t challenging enough, as is so with most ancient Rabbinic texts, the work is written in a bit of a shorthand, requiring extensive background to glean its plain meaning. Being the brilliant text that it is, however, the plain meaning only skims the surface. The text is riddled with multiple layers of meaning beyond the simple to include hints of deeper truths, interpretations begging to be made, and spiritual secrets that lie hidden within its depth. Because of this complexity, Judaism’s Sages of old recognized that a student must be ready for this world of study and action. It was therefore established that in order to begin the practice, a man must reach the age of forty, for it was believed that by this time in a man’s life, his grounding in his family, his occupation and his spiritual discipline were strong enough to enable him to explore the mystical depths safely. Without stability in these three arenas, it was believed that Kabbalistic practice brought one so close to God that unless one was extremely well rooted in this earthly plane, the esoteric nature of its teachings could unearth the mind, soul and spirit.

While Kabbalah today offers this same opportunity for deep spiritual exploration and discovery, much of its study has been distilled to make it more accessible, teasing away the some of the dimensions that concerned the ancients. Furthermore, its wisdom has been made more widely available so that women as well as men are studying, across a wide adult age spectrum, certainly including those under the age of forty.

In all the practices of Kabbalah, there is one in particular that I find most compelling. It takes place once each year in the spring, beginning on the second day of Passover and ending seven weeks later, with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Both of these holidays have an agricultural connection, the first being the ripening of the barley, the second being the ripening of the wheat. On each of these days a tithe needed to be brought, so it made sense to count the days.

What would Kabbalah have to do with this period of time?  The first of these holidays is also associated with freedom from slavery – a universal teaching. On the second, God appeared to the people and gave the Torah – all of Judaism’s teachings; what some refer to as the Old Testament – to the people. Kabbalah steps in to tell us that each of us has a spiritual path to walk to be ready for an encounter with God. If the concept of God is a stretch for your spiritual path, try on holiness instead. And while the teaching of Kabbalah are delineated within a Jewish context, the message of this period of time, referred to as the Counting of the Omer (the seven weeks), is available to all, regardless of spiritual approach.

In each of the seven weeks Kabbalah focuses our study and meditation of one of several characteristics within ourselves that mirror characteristics of God. Each week we work to evolve ourselves in one of the areas. Translated from the Hebrew, they are:

  • Loving kindness
  • Discipline and judgement
  • Compassion, beauty and harmony
  • Endurance
  • Humility
  • Bonding and foundation
  • Nobility and physical reality

This week is the third week, and it is associated with compassion, beauty and harmony. Within each week is a meditation that is specific to each day, helping individuals to focus themselves in their spiritual process.

This is an excerpt from A Spiritual Guide to Counting the Omer, by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, particularly for this day, the seventeenth day of the Omer:

“True compassion is limitless. It is not an extension of your needs and defined by your limited perspective. Compassion for another is achieved by having a selfless attitude, rising above yourself and placing yourself in the other person’s situation and experience.”

Jacobson then poses the following questions for reflection:

  • Do I express and actualize the compassion and empathy in my heart?
  • What blocks me from expressing it?
  • Is my compassion compassionate or self-serving?
  • Is it compassion that comes out of guilt rather than genuine empathy?
  • Is my compassion alive; does it resound with vitality, or is it expressed only out of obligation?
  • How do I express compassion? Is my compassion beautiful? Is it well rounded?

Finally, Jacobson ends with an action to take:

“Exercise for the day: Express your compassion in a new way that goes beyond your previous limitations: express it towards someone to whom you have been callous.”

Whatever your faith or spiritual orientation, an exercise such as this can offer great opening for your life and for those around you. It is the kind of practice that can enrich our world and help to manifest more love within it.

I invite you to participate in this exercise today, and to consider the other attributes: of loving kindness, discipline, judgment, endurance, humility, bonding, foundation, nobility, and your physical reality, to see how you might find a way to enhance these qualities in your life. This can be done on any day, at any time of the year, helping to bring more richness and holiness to you and those you love.

Robin Damsky

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