Thursday, 29 March 2012

Musings on SY1:5

This is a cross-posting from a Kabbalah yahoo group where I asked about meditation advice for Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation), Chapter 1, Verse 5 (SY1:5). Here is the translation from Rabbi Kaplan's book:
Ten Sefirot of Nothingness:
Their measure is ten
which have no end
A depth of beginning
A depth of end
A depth of good
A depth of evil
A depth of above
A depth of below
A depth of east
A depth of west
A depth of north
A depth of South
The singular Master
God faithful King
dominates over them all 
from His holy dwelling
until eternity of eternities

Here is an extract from Rabbi Kaplan's advice on how to meditate on this verse: Pp. 48
"The initiate here is given an allegory through which he or she can perceive his or her path to Infinite Being. The allegory consists of any of the directions. Thus, for example, 'up' has no end. One can continue to travel in an upward direction, but can never actually reach 'up.' The same is true when one travels 'up' spiritually.....
The first exercise is to depict the 'depth of beginning.' Attempt to picture an infinity of time in the past. Let the mind travel back to a minute ago, an hour ago, a day ago, a year ago, continuing until you reach a level where you are trying to imagine an infinity ago. Then do the same with regard to the future. The next exercise involves trying to imagine infinite good and infinite evil. The limits are pure ideas, which cannot be verbalized. Finally, one must imagine the limits of the spacial dimensions. One must perceive the height of the sky and beyond the sky, the depth of the earth and beyond the earth. In this manner, one gradually trains the mind to depict the infinite. Since the Sefirot themselves are also infinite, this exercise can help one attain communion with the Sefirot."
For the past couple of months a friend and I have been studying and meditating on the verses of Chapter 1 of Sefer Yetzirah. One idea that my study partner and I have speculated on with regards to experiencing various depths (directions) mentioned in SY1:5 is that they are a way for the practitioner to orient him/her self in exploring spiritual worlds.

When doing meditation to alter states of consciousness, the same sense of direction that we use to navigate in the World of Action (Asiyah) - both in terms of North, South, East, West, Up, Down, Good and Evil - might be different in the World of Formation (Yetzirah). By meditating and exploring the depths of these directions in Asiyah, the meditator would recognize and be able to orient themselves when moving through inner spiritual realities.

As I said above, this is just an idea that we're exploring. I believe that Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan states that by meditating on these depths that the practitioner begins to recognize the inner Sefirot-it nature of things that we see and experience in the world around us. Pp.49:
"...In this manner, one gradually trains the mind to depict the infinite. Since the Sefirot themselves are also infinite, this exercise can help one attain communion with the Sefirot. The individual can then learn to climb the Tree of the Sefirot, and eventually approach the loftiest spiritual heights. This is accomplished through these depths. It is written, "A song of steps, from the depths I call You O God" (Psalm 130:1). One calls out to God by meditating on the depths, and then one can ascend through a series of steps. The psalm is therefore called a "song of steps"..." 
When I read this the question that came to mind is: how do you know where you are during one's ascent of the Tree of Sefirot? To which my guess of an answer is: by recognizing which depth you are experiencing.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Call about the Three Mother Letters

"Nu?" Rabbi Bar-zel Arieh Tzion asks as soon as I answer the phone. "Wot is dis crisis you are experiencing?"

"It wasn't a crisis Rabbi," I reply with all the calmness I can muster. "I just needed to get over my issues with meditating on the Sefirot And how are you?"

"Ohhh, Sefirot. Yes, yes, very interesting and very hard to grasp. Most people just talk about them, but I'd rather ask for advice from the Cha-cha-mim [wise men] of Chelm than put any faith in the hundreds of pages that I have read on the theory of Sefirot." He pauses. "Surely you have heard of the Cha-cha-mim [wise men] of Chelm?"

"No, Rabbi Tzion, I haven't."


The awkward silence that follows is vast enough to swallow us both. I can hear him tapping a pen against the phone receiver. Suddenly he strikes up a tuneless melody, his voice rising and falling as he fills in the words that he can remember.

"Sorry Rabbi," I ask somewhat perplexed and annoyed at him calling me out of the blue. "Why are you calling me?"

The humming stops, I hear him put down the pen. "See here is the ting Shimon, I want to help you but some ting you have to discover on your own. They are called Netivot [private paths] for a reason, you see? Such as for example how the letter Aleph connects Chesed and Gevurah. The letter Mem connects Netzach and Hod. And how the letter Shin connects Chochmah and Binah."

"You're talking about the three mother letters in the Hebrew alphabet?" Finally we're getting on to a more stimulating topic than wise men from Yiddish folklore.

"Sure, sure, dey are mother letters because the number of horizontals determine the points in an array. Look dis up in figure 3 on page 28 of Rabbi Kaplan's book. 3 horizontals results in an array of 10 points." He starts tapping out a rhythm again with his pen. "But the main ting is to meditate on the letters as channels of Shefa between the Sefirot. What does Aleph feel like? What does Mem taste like? What does the sound of Shin look like?"

"What is Shefa?" I ask having some understanding of the term, but not enough to use it confidently in conversation.

"Divine flow, Divine abundance. Emanations, my dear Shimon, emanations!" There's a pause and the pen goes still. "Wait a minute, wait a minute - why did you ask about that and not about what the sound of the letter Shin looks like? You've tried it already haven't you? Ya, Shimon? Tell your Rebbi what you’ve learnt already?"

"When I meditate on the channel between Chesed and Gevurah, I don't think in terms of kindness and severity. They're both so powerful that they each seek to destroy the other. Chesed obliterates everything in its path and Gevurah constrains everything until it can no longer exist. To me the letter Aleph is the sound of an in-drawn breath, the interplay of expansion of Chesed and the contraction of Gevurah. The same expansion and contraction that happens at all levels of creation, it's a vibration and the molecular dance of the Universe."

I pause and try to capture the experiences of the letter meditations.

"Mem is a musical sound. Music is a key to achieving a level of consciousness on which prophecy is possible. Mem is a single note, but when taken together with the other notes can combines to create beautiful music. Netzach gives and Hod receives in relation to how much the other can receive or give. It's a much more harmonious interaction. Here the vibration set in motion between Chesed and Gevurah is channeled to allow for an interplay in which the coupling of Yesod results in something that has some measure of permanence in Malchut. If this was attempted at the level of Tiferet the world could not be sustained. Eventually the forces from Chesed and Gevurah would tear it asunder."

"Hmmm interesting thoughts, Shimon," the rabbi responds. I can hear him hold his breath, for a rare few minutes I have his complete attention. "And nu, wat about Shin?"

"Shin is the white noise between Chochmah and Binah. As I use letter meditation to attempt to oscillate my consciousness between the undifferentiated thought of Chochmah and my compartmentalized thinking in Binah, the hissing sound of Shin cuts through everything. It cuts across all frequencies and obliterates them, much as white noise does. This is the Chochmah part of the sound, a simple kernel of an idea that has room for nothing else. At the same time the fact that I'm hearing noise and trying to make sense of it means that my Binah consciousness is breaking it up in such a way as to delineate and process it."

"And?" Rabbi Bar-Zel Arieh Tzion chuckles, a hoarse yet throaty laugh.

"Aleph vibrates like air, Mem hums like water and Shin hisses like fire. Does that answer your question Rabbi?"

"It does Shimon, but I'd rather you did not read up ahead on Chapter 2 in future until you've finished working through Chapter 1 of Sefer Yetzirah. Oh and one more ting, no Golem building using chometz** you hear me? Especially not ones with de ginger in it!"

** flour that has had yeast added and allowed to rise for more than 18 minutes.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Getting a handle on the Sefirot

Having started studying Sefer Yetzirah (SY), The Book of Creation, with a friend as part of the SYRC group has been fun but also challenging. The main challenge that I overcame recently was the realization that whilst I am happy and confident to interact with and meditate on the Hebrew Letters as channels of Divine flow – this is not the case for the Sefirot.

Since the Sefirot are first enumerated in chapter 1 of SY, and then not mentioned again in later chapters, this is something that I needed to rectify. How can I gain experiential knowledge of the Sefirot without referencing them in my meditation?

At the core of my block lay a fear of perceiving the Sefirot as having a separate existence from the Creator. That somehow by meditating on them I might come to experience a perceived division in the process of creation where no such separation existed. Much like Acher (Rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah) in the story of the four Rabbis entering the Garden of Eden, see Pardes (Orchard) legend.

Anyway, Rabbi Steinsaltz's “The Thirteen Petalled Rose” provided some useful insight: (pp.34-35)

“...When one relates only to the Sefirot, one is not relating to anything real. For deeds or thoughts do no operate by themselves separate from the Infinite, He who is the very life of the worlds. All the systems of the ten Sefirot , even though they carry out the laws of nature and beyond nature, have nothing real in themselves. In relating to the Infinite Light Himself they are less than a nothingness clothed or covered by an appearance of something real; they are only names, designations, points of departure for establishing a relationship, having nothing substantial in themselves. So that prayer, repentance, the cry of man to God, even though they are dependent upon and cut across a limited, deterministic system, neither work upon nor even address that system...”

So that helped clarify my question: are the Sefirot tools created by God or reflecting something intrinsic in God's being. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz appears, according to my limited understanding, to favour the former. Sefirot are just tools, a means of manifesting creation and have no substance. Rabbi Steinsaltz then continues:

“...When man reaches certain heights, he learns more about God, the order and arrangement of thins, relationships between one action and another, and the power and significance of law. Nevertheless, in the last resort the relationship to the Divine is individual. It is a completely private affair, the relationship of the single man in all his uniqueness of self and personality, oblivious of the infinite distance between himself and God, precisely because God in His being infinitely distant, beyond any possible contact, is Himself the One who creates the ways, the means of contact, in which every though, every tremor of anticipation and desire on the part of man work their way until they reach the Holy One Himself, the Infinite, Blessed be He...”

In conclusion, the Sefirot are not God's essence. They're just means to establish a relationship. But this does not mean that God will forever remain infinitely remote from mankind. Rather as pointed out in this second quote God has provided each of us an inner path to reaching back to Himself. Which Rabbi Areyh Kaplan elaborates on further when he comments on the word Netivot, private paths, in SY1:1.

Even if I do not entirely grasp the ideas above, it's helped me get over my block and do some practical meditation on the Sefirot starting with the Mother letters (see SY) and staring at my hands in front of a candle.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Short Service Interruption

Apologies for not posting for a little while. My life is currently going through some interesting changes and I need to focus attention away from the blog. Not so much undergoing a dark night of the soul or even a long dark tea time of the soul... more like a quick cappuccino of the soul.

Normal blog updates will resume soon.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Werewolf Syncronicity

Found an old copy of Jim Butchers “Full Moon” and then shortly afterwards stumbled across the trailer of Underworld: Awakening (starring the lovely Kate Beckinsale). I decided to crack open my copy of Sacred Monsters: Mysterious and Mythical Creatures of Scripture, Talmud and Midrash” by Rabbi Natan Slifkin – to see what he had to say on the subject of werewolves. Here is an extract from pages 220-221:
The thirteenth-century scholar Rabbeinu Ephraim ben Shimshon specifically refers to werewolves, in a cryptic discussion about the parallels between a werewolf and the tribe of Benjamin: 
There is a type of wolf that is called loup-garou (werewolf), which is a person that changes into a wolf. When it changes into a wolf, his feet emerge between his shoulders. So too with Benjamin - “he dwells between the shoulders” (Deuteronomy 33:12). The solution for [dealing with] this wolf is that when it enters a house, and a person is frightened by it, he should take a firebrand thrust it around, and he will not be harmed. So they would do in the Temple; each day, they would throw ashes by the altar, as it is written, “and you shall place it by the altar” (Leviticus 6:3); and so is the norm with this person whose offspring turns into wolves, for a wolf is born with teeth, which indicates that it is out to consume the world. Another explanation: a wolf is born with teeth, to show that just as this is unusual, so too he will be different from other people. And likewise, Benjamin destroyed (literally “ate”) his mother who die on his accord, as it is written, “And it was as her soul left her, for she was dying, and she called his name 'the son of my affliction' (ben oni)” (Genesis 35:18). - Rabbeinu Ephraim, Commentary to Genesis 1:27, p.167 
It appears that these authorities believed in the existence of werewolves. While such belief would be outlandish today, in the medieval period it was perfectly ordinary. After all, Scripture itself attests to King Nebuchadnezzar turning into an animal. While some would interpret this as mental illness, others interpreted this as meaning that he physically transformed into an animal. Why, then, should a person not be able to turn into a wolf? image from Underworld:Awakening
Must remember to stock up on some firebrands. Although a zombie apocalypse is more likely than a werewolf apocalypse. Unless said werewolves acquire spacefaring technology and a means to extinguish the sun. In any case, the explanation of what might have caused Benjamin's mother to die in childbirth will likely give me nightmares for weeks to come.