The Circle of Life

Most of us think that when we reach adulthood there’s nothing more to discover. We are so grown up that we have nowhere else to go but to maintain what we already know.

But life is more like a spiral, which draws us onward and upward, sometimes in ways we could never have foreseen. New discoveries and new challenges can lead us into situations that we couldn’t have imagined beforehand.

Right now, the economic challenges, the violence in the world, diseases we didn’t even know existed, have all become more real in ways no one could have predicted.

But as Rabbi Simon Jacobson explained a while back, the kabbalists describe this process as similar to the circular staircase. When we start to go up, we believe that we are going in the right direction. As we continue our climb, we come to a point where it feels like we have made no progress, because we find ourselves facing back to the way we came. However, the teaching reminds us to keep climbing toward our goal. As we continue we will eventually discover that we are facing the right way once again, and can successfully complete the mission we set out to accomplish.

When is a coincidence not a coincidence?

What could the great 12th century sage Maimonides possibly teach us about life in the present day that would help us to overcome the violence we’re seeing now in so many places in the Middle East?

It’s his explanation about being careful to realize that nothing happening in the world is “by chance” or coincidental. He says that when we take seriously the teaching that everything on earth is in Oneness—within the one all-inclusive consciousness of the universe—we can come into the realm of this Oneness, and gradually cause our many difficulties to come into peaceful harmony.

In his book, Guide for the Perplexed, in the section on Divine Commandments, Maimonides explains a quote from the Torah:
“We must understand the passage, ‘If ye walk with me by chance’ (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:21); i.e. if I bring troubles upon you for punishment, and you consider them mere accidents, I will again send you some of these accidents as you call them, but of a more serious and troublesome character. This is expressed in the words: ‘If ye walk with me by chance, then I will walk with you also in the fury of chance’ (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:27-28). For the belief of the people that their troubles are mere accidents causes them to continue in their evil principles and their wrong actions, and prevents them from abandoning their evil ways.”

What Maimonides is asking us to realize is that NOTHING IS BY CHANCE! We’re not just physical human creatures who exist simply to survive. We’re conscious beings, and our consciousness is actually part of the consciousness of the universe. Maimonides is saying that we have to raise our understanding of who we really are, and what we really have within us that can strengthen us to overcome and survive any challenges we face.

Of course, such an understanding cannot come overnight. It has to be learned and practiced over and over again until it can be recognized in our daily lives. By studying with knowledgeable teachers, it can gradually become more apparent that there’s more to life than we can simply see with our eyes. Prayers and serious meditation can support this approach until we start to become amazed at this brilliant design of consciousness.

We’ve come to a time in the world when many more of us can take advantage of this enlightening process. While we keep it under wraps and don’t talk about it, we’re missing out on the wonder of life on this planet. Let’s take a lesson from Maimonides and begin to notice when things fall into place in ways we couldn’t have foreseen; then we’ll be able to realize that these coincidences don’t happen just by chance!

Supportive guidebooks by Myra Estelle: Awakening Love: A Spiritual Quest Into Judaism, and The Way The World Works: A Journey Toward Inner Peace.

Two levels of life

Even though this recent war in Israel has been fought on a physical level, when we look at it from another, higher perspective, it can become easier to see that we are also being challenged on a spiritual level. When we understand from the Torah that our world is actually functioning on these two different levels at the same time, we can expand our ability to overcome such challenges.

On the physical level, we obviously have to protect ourselves from physical harm. And on the spiritual level, when we are ready to recognize the need for our alignment with the creative process of the universe—the oneness we call God—we will be able to notice a new, clearer view of life that can carry us through adversity in ways that might seem miraculous.

It’s up to each of us to discover this spiritual wisdom for ourselves, because the Kabbalah teaches that the way we see ourselves affects the way we will experience life. The solution is right inside each one of us. The source of our strength can be found within, whenever we take the time to listen to our own inner truth. The more we want the world to heal, the more commitment we need to make to this inner healing. The most amazingly real and effective peace process begins from a place within our own soul.

Please join us in The Listening Room as we discuss these teachings from our sages, and then we’ll follow with a short, silent meditation on the Shema.

Date: Saturday, August 30th
Time: 5.45 pm
Location: info@myraestelle.com

What is Judaism? Why does it exist?

I’ve been noticing a lot of complaints about Judaism lately, and it appears that there are many people who don’t seem to understand what Judaism stands for. Please take a moment here to see if any of this short explanation relates to anything that you stand for.

Judaism is really about a covenant. It’s an agreement—a binding commitment that goes much deeper than any signature on a contract. Our ancestors, the ancestors of the people who are presently part of the Jewish community, made an agreement with the universe that we would follow certain guidelines, to ensure that we would be able to live in peace with each other. These guidelines, which have since been taken on by many other societies, can be found in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Bible, and also in the Koran.

This covenant requires a commitment to show respect for the greater wisdom of the universe, and also for all that this universe has created. When we acknowledge the oneness of the entire universe, we’ll be able to appreciate that all of life on earth is interconnected through the unified energy on our planet. When we set aside one day, every week, as a Sabbath—a rest day—then we can reflect on this understanding.
Our way of living has to be such that we must honor our parents, and agree not to commit murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or even feel jealous of our neighbor’s possessions.

When we live in this respectful way, Judaism teaches us that we can create a peaceful community. When we live in this respectful way, we can each experience the love and protection it will provide. When we act with compassion for the needs of others, and gratitude for what has already been given to us, we create the foundation to bless all of life, including our own.
Does this relate to anything you stand for?

We become the miracle

When we look at the vast magnificence of the universe extending toward infinity, it’s obvious that it is beyond the capacity of any human being to completely understand all of its brilliantly creative aspects, but what we can do is stretch our own awareness every day, in a way that allows us to comprehend a little more each time about the way the world works.

Our sages have told us that when we take the time to learn something new each day, we are drawing ourselves closer to the greater height of wisdom that’s within what is sometimes called the ‘heavenly realm.’

This is our true work here on earth—to grow in our recognition of the brilliant design that is our planet; to realize and be thankful that this magnificent life support system we’ve been given is for us to enjoy.

And everything that happens is to advance that goal, even if it doesn’t look like it at certain times. Everything that happens is to remind us that we’re not just human creatures struggling to survive, but awesomely designed forms of consciousness, who are required—actually required—to acknowledge and enjoy this natural habitat we’ve been given. This is the reason why we’re asked to say words of gratitude every day, even though we can’t physically see who has set this planet, and our lives, in motion.

As Isaiah explains in the Haftorah this week, when we turn our thoughts and our love to God, we will be redeemed with justice and righteousness. We will become the miracle that we seek.

As our thoughts and our prayers are with the citizens of Israel and their magnificent defense forces, we’ll discuss teachings this Shabbat from the Torah, Rav Kook, and other rabbis, that can help us to discover how to bring about the miracles. We’ll follow this with a short, silent meditation on the Shema.

Date: Saturday, August 2nd
Time: 6.25 pm. (Before Mincha)
Location: info@myraestelle.com

Overcoming obstacles

Life is a journey that takes us from not knowing to knowing, from doubt to clarity, and from feeling fear to feeling the freedom of creative thought and love.

It takes great effort and commitment to gradually lift ourselves up into clearer and clearer consciousness, because the physical world seems to want us to stay where we are. Every important step forward can feel like a great challenge, because we’re breaking through to more enlightenment—we’re disrupting the status quo.

My late rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach, of very blessed memory, used to point this out to us when he was giving a talk in Shul and the children would suddenly make more noise. He would tell us that what he was about to say must be very important, because the noise was making it harder for him to be heard. He was clear that whenever we’re trying to improve some part of life, obstacles will arise to interrupt and slow down the process.

So when I see Judaism, and especially Israel, especially now, trying to improve life, to discover new healing medications, to develop new technology, to enlighten the souls of people everywhere with the mystical teachings, the resistance of the materialistic view of the world fights back, struggling against our efforts to enhance life on this planet.

However, our teachings can give us the strength to keep moving forward. Please join us for a discussion on what our sages say about overcoming obstacles. We’ll follow this with a short, silent meditation on the Shema.

Date: Saturday, July 12th
Time: 6.45 pm. (Before Mincha)
Location: contact info@myraestelle.com

Trust

There are two levels of trust. The first is to accept that any negative experiences we go through are challenges given to develop our inner strength. This is when we have to learn how to do whatever is necessary to overcome adversity; then we can start to see the things we need fall into place for us. But after a long time, as we continue to gain experience and develop a clearer understanding of the spiritual journey, life can begin to demand more from us.

Moses found this out in this week’s Parsha Chukat, when he hit the rock to get water, instead of speaking to it as he was told to do. Hitting the rock had worked before, and water did come gushing out when he hit it this time, but he was punished for not trusting and following his inner guidance exactly as it had been given to him.

Of course, we all have to do everything we can to make things work out in a positive way, but Moses was being shown that as our trust develops, we have to reach into a whole new level of faith, where there’s less unnecessary action and more bitachon—trust. This is a very demanding part of the journey toward enlightenment that can stretch our patience to the limit, and make us question our ability to believe that everything will work out in the right way. But it will, as long as we hold on to our trust.

This is not about an intellectual kind of trust—this has to be realized on a very intuitive, soul level.

This week we’ll look at what our sages Rav Kook, Rav Ashlag, and the Rebbe M.M. Schneerson have taught about these two levels of trust. We’ll follow this discussion with a short silent meditation on the Shema.

Date: Saturday, June 28th
Time: 6.45 pm. (Before Mincha)
Location:  HIR

The left and right brain connection

I remember sitting in one of my first design classes at college when I was studying architecture, and I suddenly felt the two sides of my brain connect together, as if they were physically linking to each other, in a way they had never done before. It felt like two trains hooking up on the tracks, and yet it was happening inside my head. It didn’t hurt at all, and there were no physical repercussions. I simply continued with my studies and went on to graduate. People have since enjoyed my designs, so no harm was done.

What I’ve learned since then is that the brain has two parts to it, the left brain and the right brain, joined to each other by something called the corpus callosum. This is the part of the brain that connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres and facilitates communication between the two sides. What I had felt in that classroom was probably the slight expansion of the corpus callosum in my head, as it allowed the freer flow of information from one side to the other and helped me to coordinate my practical abilities with my creative skills.

Neuro-scientists and kabbalists explain that each side of the brain has its own distinct function, and these two parts work together to give us the understanding we have about life. So when we gain more information about each side, we can understand our thought process more clearly.

The left brain deals with the intellect, the factual details of a thought, whereas the right side of the brain is more creative, and gives us the overall view of the whole concept behind those details. When they work together in concert they provide us with a clearer understanding; when one side overshadows the other, we tilt our view to a more limited perspective.

In kabbalah, the influence of the right side is called chochma, and the influence of the left side is called bina. Chochma gives us the concept, while bina fills in the details, to give us a clearer understanding of the idea. They usually work in harmony so that we can gain an overall comprehension of the various aspects of a situation, which is when we’re able to reach da’at.

When we look at politics, for example, it’s actually the left side of the political aisle that has a broader view of each situation, while avoiding some of the details, like how to pay for the good they want to do. Whereas the right side of the aisle is so concerned with the way to pay for any item, that they hold back on fulfilling the need for those items. So the left side of the political community is reacting more from the right side of the brain and the right side of the political aisle is reacting more from the left side of the brain! And this creates a conflict that paralyzes the ability to take any action that can move us forward into a brighter future.

Other than having everyone sit in a design class to expand their corpus callosum, we need to see what we’re all doing to each other as we take sides in this tug of war between left and right.

The ten sephirot teach us that we have to coordinate all the various aspects of our mind and heart so that we can come into balance from within our own self. When we’re able to coordinate and balance our individual sense of being, our thinking can come into harmony with the flow of greater goodness that’s in the world. In Judaism we speak of this as Divine consciousness, because this can make our experience of life feel divine.

Join us as we discuss some of the teachings from our sages about balancing the sephirot in our lives, and follow with a short, silent meditation on the Shema.

Date: Saturday, June 21st
Time: 6.45 pm. (Before Mincha)
Location: HIR

Practicing self-analysis

This is the time when practicing Judaism is a little bit like going into therapy. What we’ve been given is a specific project for seven weeks, when we’re instructed to reach inward to analyze the deeper aspects of our own mind. According to Rabbi Dov Ber Pinson, the Counting of the Omer is the time when we are “unifying our internal reality.”

This means we’re being given the time to come into the oneness of our own being, to disentangle the complexities in our mind so that everything about us can become clearer and more understandable. Materially, this can mean removing excess baggage, by throwing out old papers, or old pairs of shoes. Psychologically, it can mean finding humility, which is the sephira for the coming week, by becoming more aware that we are each an individual part of a greater oneness.

Please join us in The Listening Room this week, on Shabbat, as we discuss these concepts, and follow with a short meditation on the Shema.
Date: Saturday, May 10th
Time: 6.15 pm. (Before Mincha)
Email for location: info@myraestelle.com

Journey of the Inner Self

People are now beginning to realize that if we want to see more peace in the world, we have to first create peace within our own self. Judaism has given us the tools to do just this through the teachings of the Inner Torah. Right now, during this time of Counting the Omer, the teachings in the Sephirot encourage us to go deeper into the journey of our inner self, so that we can nurture our own soul and develop the kind of peace so many of us desperately want to eventually see in the whole world.

We’ve already looked at the first three steps of this inner path during these last three weeks in The Listening Room. Now we’re coming up to the fourth step—this is when we have to become sufficiently aware of the inner harmony we’ve found, so that we can begin to share it with others. As usual, we’ll look at what the sages have given us to support our journey forward. These lessons can’t be absorbed instantaneously; they have to be practiced over time until we can realize their full power. We have to develop patience, as well as the courage to become more than we thought we could be. We have to develop all the inner gifts we’ve been given, and gradually become more of our full self.

Please join us in The Listening Room this week, on Shabbat, as we discuss this Inner Torah process of finding peace within.

Date: Saturday, May 3rd
Time: 6.05 pm. (Before Mincha)
Location: email info@myraestelle.com