A very close friend lives north of Jerusalem in the mountains of the Galil. Like me, but for his own reasons and as product of his own experiences, he also rarely goes to shul nowadays. Rather, he usually takes a long meditation walk in place of Kabbalat Shabbat Friday nights. I always look forward to joining him whenever I’m there. Perhaps a little steep, it’s not too hard a walk, even for my challenged foot (see Praying From The Floor), to focus on breath and silent chant as my perceptions slowly change, opening to an expanded reality of Shabbat.
Part of the walk’s pleasure is watching the sun dip behind a ridge of mountain peaks featuring Mt. Meron and the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the first revealer of the Holy Zohar at, the center. As the light fades and we head home, I often start to tune into the flood of different minyanim, prayer groups, each on their own but each joining all the others with it’s own texture of interwoven prayer.
If I were in one of dozens or more Ashkenazi-based shuls, we’d finish by chanting, together, a short mishna specifying the rules of exactly what we can use as fuel in our Shabbat candles, and I, like many of the men there, will often start to space out, focusing ahead in time to dinner, family and friends.
I had an epiphany several months ago, at the peak of the walk. When the sun disappeared behind the mountains and the sky darkened, we entered a period halachically-known “Ben HaShmashot”, literally between the suns, that twilight period when it’s neither light nor dark. Talmudically, we begin an analysis of whether it’s already Shabbat or still “chol” (ordinary weekday) and when, exactly the transition occurs. This moves us into a mode where one set of rules, Shabbat halachot, takes over. This is a very frequent concern, processing when the rules that make Shabbat deal primarily with restrictions and prohibitions. In many ways, this is a “circle the wagons” moment of defensive attitude where we exclude the outside world and those who inhabit it from the intimate circle of Jewish family and friends.
As I just mentioned, I had an epiphany that evening. Rather than drawing these rules around me like a shield, as I have done for many years, I was overwhelmed with the urge, instead, to let go, to experience the sensation of, with each departing bit of light, relaxing into a natural Shabbat mode of relaxing, of letting things be, of experiencing the shleimut (Shabbat Shalom), perfect completeness of Shabbat.
Many, if not most of the codified halachot for Shabbat prohibit us from imposing our changes on the reality of each given-by-God Shabbat-moment. Some go so far as to avoid using toothpaste because in doing so we would change the shape of the toothpaste tube and thus, alter reality. We employ this shield of halacha to protect Shabbat not just from the outside world, but from our own habitual compulsion to meddle. It seems the greatest challenge to just let be.
We’re taught that Shabbat is 1/60th of Olam HaBa, the World to Come, that Infinite reward of 100%, 24/7 intimacy with The Creator. We see that we approach this ideal by disengaging our ego-driven creative selves which only get in the way.
It seems there must be another side to the hard-shield/shell of Halacha, a side that rather than blocking, melts away the barriers first between ourselves and our close ones, eventually the barriers we’ve built and created which separate us from God.
Rav Kook frequently employs the imagery of a seed. Hard on the outside, more or less impenetrable in order to guard and protect the life, both material and energy within, it then requires the trust to melt this shield, freeing all the potential and allowing a new burst of life.
For the two thousand years between the Second Temple, the last time we, as a people, had the strength and trust to allow ourselves to completely merge with our Creator, and now, when we’re on the verge, living in our land with almost half the world’s Jews joining us here, of once again reaching this spiritual level, we were governed/governed ourselves with the Torah and Halacha of Surviving Exile and Alienation. And each year, this was the Torah we lovingly received each Shavuot.
Perhaps we’re still a year or a decade or a century from becoming fully Nigal, redeemed, but at some point in the pretty near future we will flip states and will definitely need this future Torah, teaching us how to let down our guard and to fully open our hearts to every manifestation of The Divine. As we sing the Aleinu several times daily when completing a davening (prayer) service, BaYom HaHu Yih’ye Hashem Echad U’Sh’mo Echad. And on the great and wonderful day, God and His Name will surely be One Echad, Singular Yachid, Exclusive (nothing that isn’t God will exist to be “not God”) and M’yuchad, Special, M’lo Kol Ha’aretz Kvodo, filling and defining all existence in perfect harmony.
I know which Torah I long to receive this year and every year in the future.
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