Many Faces, Old and New


 Shabbat Shalom.
    Hi, I'm Susan Katz, and Mike Lepawsky and I were so delighted with the Kabbalah at Noon adult education program that we even volunteered to give a d'rash today about it.
    First of all, the group: the inspiration that started off the Kabbalah at Noon group was a Gloria Levy 'Now I understand what kabbalah is about Aha moment' after she had read Arthur Green's book, Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow.
Gloria approached Reb Laura with the idea that perhaps others of the community would also like to explore Kabbalah from Rabbi Green's perspective of kabbalah as a contemporary spiritual quest; they decided to team teach a program.
    Well, what an experience! We met at noon on Thursdays, some of us with lunches, and we had a wonderful time. This was especially true for me, as my husband and I had only been in Vancouver a few months after living in New Westminster for over 20 years. We were 'shopping around' for a shul; 27 years ago, in 1980, we had first moved to the lower mainland from the US, and we started our explorations into the Jewish community at Or Shalom with Daniel and Hannah Siegel, (we even betrothed our newborn daughter Devora to their also newborn son Elisha). We were also members at Beth Israel, and then Burquest in the eastern suburbs. When we moved to Vancouver last March, we weren't sure where we wanted to go. The Kabbalah at noon group was a perfect fit for my needs; people, Judaism, spirituality and mindful discussion. It was a good home for my own belief that God is manifest most tangibly when I connect intellectually, emotionally and spiritually with other people. The new faces, and new relationships they brought, made this class special for me. Faces are what Mike and I decided to talk about today.
    Arthur Green's book presents a face of kabbalah that is accessible and relevant for today. His approach is not esoteric or sexist in his presentation. It is not aimed at Hollywood celebrities, and doesn't require a calculator with multiple regression or calculus function keys, either. It just asks readers to read mindfully and look at God and from the inside out. His concepts were enhanced by our group's spirited discussions. I made many new friends and I hope to keep the connections going.
    Now, on to Faces and Kabbalah: According to R. Green, Kabbalism began as an attempt to formalize the ancient traditions of esoteric wisdom about God's nature around 800 years ago. The most basic fundamental of kabbalism is the understanding that God is in all places at all times and is sometimes described as the Ein Sof,
or limitless reality. This all-pervasive nature of God is revealed to us through Moshe, in Exodus 3:14, when God tells Moshe that his Name is "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh",  "I am which I am". The key element here is that the verb ŽEhyeh' is a Hebrew grammatical form that can float through past, present and future tenses. In other words, everything is God, including us. Mike will be speaking more about the role of faces in the meeting of God and Moshe in a few minutes.
    But how do we connect the Ein Sof-Ehyeh
nature of God to the concreteness of our contemporary day-to-day reality? In order to address the need to make God's nature more accessible, the kabbalists decided to chart the path that led them to their experience and understanding of God. One of the fruits of their efforts is the path of the 10 sefiirot. Take a look at your handout. The sefirot are representations in a chart form of how we can make that shift from Torah to life and from life to Torah, as Rabbi Green puts it. In another sense, the sefirot are also a guide to make the journey inward toward to a deeper personal level of connection with the Oneness of creation and also bring that connection back to the outer realities of daily living. The sefirot are a representation of a path, a map or guide that was created out of faith, and not considered of factual entities.
    Let's try to see how the chart works; I thought I'd use one of the pairs of attributes in the chart as an example of how the concepts of sefirot and their interplay work. First notice the structure of the chart. There are 3 triads; 1-2-3, 4-5-6, and 7-8-9. with  Keter, at the top. It is the crown or infinity of Ein Sof
, which is first perceived by us through the interplay of sefirot 2-Chochmah, wisdom and 3-Binah, knowledge. I think of how wisdom can enhance knowledge and thus create a deeper dimension of understanding. Or think of how wisdom, gained through their many years of experience, allows elders not only have more knowledgeable but use it with more wisdom, as well.
   The second and third triads make up a map of more emotional aspects of understanding. Let's use the interplay of the paired sefirot  4-Hesed
, or lovingkindness, and 5-Gevurah, or perfection and rules as an example; when 4-lovingkindness and 5-perfection are in balance they are manifested as 6-Tiferet or splendor and truth. How does this work? Through the dynamic tension that is always at work between them. Hesed is always tempered by Gevurah and vice versa. For example, we all think love is a great thing, love of yourself, of love others of God, but imagine now what happens when there is too much love: how about the word 'smotherlove'? or Abraham's love of God going so far as to allow him to put his own son, Isaac, upon the altar for sacrifice. But what aspect of this love does Isaac experience? Isaac sees the face of God while on the altar and his relationship to God becomes one of Gevurah, the "fear of Isaac", that of trembling obedience and piety. These are two faces of God that co-exist in dynamic tension. Mike will talk about Faces more÷
    The sefirot are also grouped as parts of the body and two of them are different kinds of faces. The first sefira, Keter, the realm of Ein sof,
is known as the 'Arik Anpin, the Long Face which on its own could emanate God's Light. On the other hand, the second and third set of triads in the middle of the chart, are as I mentioned, a map of emotions. The early kabbalists did not think that individually these six sefirot and their qualities could radiate the Light of the Ein Sof as forcefully as the others, and so they were grouped together as the ŽZeir Anpin', the Short Face. What are these Faces all about? Well, briefly, they are the face of parent, Arik Anpin in relationship to child, Zeir Anpin. One face of a parent is that of the joy and love for a child and the other the necessity for using restraint and discipline.  Even today, the temptation for being permissive with ourselves or our children is all too familiar, and we've all struggled to resist the temptation of buying the trendy toy or outfit, or with our inner child wanting to eat that second helping of dessert.
    What is the moral lesson here? Judgement untempered by love brings about undesirable consequences, even evil. Think about the consequences of not establishing boundaries with your children, or with your calories.  We need the rules and boundaries imposed by self-restraints and rules to survive.  Further, darkness and pain are not some distant force. They not only happen externally, but reside within each of us: they are part of the entirety of Ein Sof.
We must accept some darkness in ourselves, in others and as part of our existence. It is tempting to only recognize God in the moments of joy and thankfulness, yet God is here in both moments of celebration and darkness. When we are in mourning we still praise God through our Kaddish prayer, and when the groom breaks the glass at the end of the joyousness of the wedding ceremony under the chuppah, we remember that there also are times of shattering in our lives.

            Back to the personal note I began on, I find that acceptance of life's shortcomings and of our own and of others has brought new depth and meaning to my life, and I look at my own face and at others' with a new and deeper acceptance.

            Shabbat Shalom. And now Mike:




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