In 1995 I heard a voice in meditation sending me on a solo year-long world pilgrimage. In 2002/3, after 40 years of exploring many faiths and traditions and embracing a Buddhist practice of silence & meditation I came back to Judaism – the faith of my youth and the rituals & texts I adored. I had taken a giant step by listening again to my inner voice and was studying to become a rabbi.
During my preparation, I needed a place close to Greensboro, NC where I lived to be in silence and to study. A friend, who had never been to Meher Baba Spiritual Center, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (MBSC), recommended I try there. After being approved, with great faith of the innocent I planned a five day stay.
Mystical Judaism is about coming home to your true self, the soul you took life for, to listening deeply to your soulheart for there is where you will find the Breath of all Life, Source of all Blessings. The process involves studying and exploring the Self uncovering the text of your life, seeking balance amidst the interconnected and sometimes opposite choices of life.
“The spiritual journey does not consist in arriving at a new destination where a person gains what he did not have or becomes what he was not. It consists in the dissipation of his ignorance concerning himself and life, and the gradual growth of that understanding which begins with spiritual awakening. The finding of God is a coming to one’s own Self. –Meher Baba, Discourses, Vol I, Page 17, ‘The Search for God’
I knew very little of Jewish mysticism and believed in souls reincarnating and frequently had my tea leaves read. And I was cautious and very respectful of being in the non-physical realms. I grew up in a Conservative-Orthodox community and studied Hebrew & the Torah. I was and am still a beginner at understanding what I needed, beside intellectually, to grow inside out. My soul knew what she needed and I returned over and over again answering my soul’s desire. Then my Hadassah magazine came and I was reading the ‘book’ section and saw “Meher Baba”. How can these two worlds be coming together? Next time at MBSC I met Phyllis Ott and when she came to visit me in Beaufort Phyllis introduced me to Louise Trask. My Baba world was expanding. And still I was cautious, I was cocooned within Judaism. I affirmed to myself ‘I am not a ‘Baba lover.’
Over the next few years I brought my South Carolina family for a weekend and one young grandson for a few days. I would tell myself it was a reasonable holiday financially. I did not realize it was so much more. The love and unconditional acceptance always there was so new to me, the unsafe-in-the-world-one. I even invited my daughters & friends to celebrate my 65th birthday at MBSC and the ten of us soaked up Baba’s love.
In Judaism the spiritual journey begins with the Hebrew letters in the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, the Pentateuch- the Five Books of Moses. Each Hebrew letter is a consonant and has specific energy intelligence, mystical meanings. The letters are grouped and spaces, seemingly randomly and cryptically placed, and left for readers to uncover the mystery of the placement. The letters are referred to as ‘Black Fire’ and the space between them the ‘White Fire’, honoring each their significant meaning. Hebrew is an intuitive language, each translation is a commentary.
I began looking at the black fire and the white fire of my life from a new perspective. For five years I wrote a blog trying to understand the alignment of my life with the phrase I heard in meditation, ‘the society of the Vav’ – that I am beginning to discern. When the blog became a book rabbi Shapiro called it ‘a Jewish mystical book’. The more I played in Baba’s energies the more connected I became. In mystical worlds there are no accidents. An Indian woman needed the only bed available on the South Carolina campus and it was in my room. And she invited me to her home in Mumbai and promised to take me to Pune and Meherabad. Facts, events were my consonants I could not deny. I swam trusting that the third visit to India would be as transformational as the other two. And that is when I met one of my daughter’s neighbors, Cynthia & Richard, at lunch and was invited to my first Beads on One String Foundation gathering.
In the 2nd & 3rd century the mystic rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai AKA Rashbi, attained 125th degrees of the spiritual ladder, that complete the correction of the soul, even though they lived prior to the days of the Messiah. Rashbi expressed the entire spiritual path and titled it Zohar, meaning “radiance” in Hebrew. The Kabbalah is mystical Judaism, a collection of resources to support the inner journey. Kabbalah’s Hebrew root, KBL, is the verb to receive. The Zohar is a spiritual interpretation of the Pentateuch and is the core text of Kabbalah. It is understood that Rashbi ‘received’ the Zohar through the exploration of the Torah and her letters.
The Zohar is a guide to attain the origin of a student’s soul. The Zohar, written for people who have already achieved spiritual perception, contains all the spiritual states people experience as their soul evolve. Through this process, the soul achieves “the end of correction,” the highest level of spiritual wholeness. Exploring the Zohar means uncovering your inner world and your unlimited potential. Until recently, no one under the age of 40 was encouraged to study Kabbalah.
“I do not accept any absolute formulas for living. No preconceived code can see ahead to everything that can happen in a man’s life. As we live, we grow and our beliefs change. They must change. So I think we should live with this constant discovery. We should be open to this adventure in heightened awareness of living. We should stake our whole existence on our willingness to explore and experience. ”Martin Buber, author of I-Thou.
The Zohar was kept hidden for 900 years, between the 2nd and the 11thcenturies CE. Those who possessed its wisdom agreed that at the time, people would misunderstand its contents. Only in the 16th century CE did a Kabbalist arise who explained the fundamentals of Kabbalah, the Holy Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria, 1534-1572. The Ari stated that from his time on, the wisdom of Kabbalah was ready to be open to everyone. The student’s searching begins with an intention to cling to god, Devekute, drawing nearer to god, experiencing oneness. “The religion I shall give teaches the knowledge of the One behind the many. The book that I shall make people read is the book of the heart that holds the key to the mystery of life. I shall bring about a happy blending of the head and the heart.” Meher Baba, 1932, London
Jewish education has been transformed in the last ten years. There is a focus on integrating the three levels of soul –Nefesh, Neshama and Ruah – head, heart, soul. In a Talmud midrash – a story from the oral Jewish tradition – we learn: There once were four rabbis who yearned for Devekute with their god. They entered an orchard called PaRaDiSe. The first rabbi encountered god and died. The second encountered god and lost a sense of reality. The third rabbi entered in deep sorrow and confusion about the death of young friends and in doubt rejected oneness – the existence of god. The fourth rabbi entered ‘Shalem’ -wholeness and left ‘Shalem’- whole. Rabbi Akiva lived in all four worlds: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual and was able to encounter his god with a rhythmic oscillation of peace.
So who is this monotheistic god Jews on the mystical path seek to cling to? In Judaism there is no image of god and we are taught you do not say the four letters of god as that would make god static, as god is dynamic. When Moses asks “What do I tell them your name is? He hears, “I will be who I will be.” In the ‘ten sayings’ Jews are taught not to make any ‘graven images’. Mystical Judaism teaches god is in everything – transcendent and immanent, in every blade of grass. And Moses was told ‘if you see my face you will die’. My interpretation is if you see one face you miss out on seeing all the other faces of the Divine.…like all the photos of Baba, each is different, each reflecting the artist’s impression of the Divine. A core concept and a Jewish prayer is ‘SH’ma, Yisrael -hear, you spiritual beings who wrestle with god ….you & your god are one’. Hear the voice, trust that voice and follow what brings you into oneness with your ever-evolving god Self.
This picture is a collage I call’ Watering the Tree Outside the Fence.’ In the oral tradition, the rabbis teach, ‘make a fence around the Torah- tree of Life- to keep her safe’. I find the fence limiting and also many characters have reached beyond the fence to enrich Judaism without leaving the tradition. The fear is of assimilation which historically seems to have gotten the Jews in much trouble – annihilation, exile, destruction etc. The tree is the Torah with Hebrew letters scattered over her limbs. – TZiPi Radonsky
Many years ago, I fell in love with the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the Vav, whose energy intelligence is eternal unconditional love-connection. In writing this essay I see everything is connected. By staying awake to the black & white fires, I am uncovering me. I am grateful for everything – as all enriches my life in glorious colors of relationships. Yes, and … I walk in an ocean of love remembering not to let my Jewish ‘oy vay’ mind worry and choosing happiness over suffering.