Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Blessed Thistle Seeds: Who says winter is a time for seclusion, slumber, and consumption?

We had a large group of participants attend this workshop that we offered as part of our Fall Series. Casey talked about foraging for nuts and the many trips to the woods he would go to collect (making sure he was picking the right kind of Shagbark nuts not Pignut Hickory since they are very bitter). Since we like to put the "work" into our workshops we had everyone help us break up the basket of nuts we had. We naturally fell into a circle formation and everyone assumed a working role in pounding out the meat of each nut to later be boiled. It is a great collective project and the processing flies by when there are good people to share stories with. After bringing the nut meat to a boil over the hot fire coals, we enjoyed this creamy thick sweet nut flavored drink on this gorgeous fall day at Lancaster Farmacy! It is our favorite fall beverage since it is a delicious rich hot drink. We sweeten it with maple syrup. Hickory nuts contain great fiber, magnesium and thiamine. They a good source for carbohydrates, natural oils, unsaturated fats (the good kind) and  protein.
Blessed Thistle Seeds

Over the winter we have been planning and anticipating the day we would be sowing our seeds in our dear farmer friend's greenhouse at Riverview Organics. Casey and I spent many winter retreats paging through heirloom seed catalogs and making decisions for the things we are most excited to grow and offer through our CSM and the coop. It feels like so long ago that the snow surrounded us, insulating sound into quiet stillness. Even though it has been in the 30s this week, green has been poking itself through the browns of wet spring, chickweed is thicker than ever, the nettles beginning to spread its leaves, spring garlic forming its tufts in early pastures and woods, and the woodcocks are performing their spiral mating ritual which we love to watch. These are just a few signs of early spring and so much more is coming...

For our seeds this season, we chose many native plants that we feel a responsibility to grow on our land since we want to share them with others than ourselves which we typically forage. Every seed has its own needs, conditions and characteristics which makes this a wild array of diversity in our seed collection. With my love for art, I've always regarded nature as my favorite artist, opening each packet of seeds is like going to a show and appreciating unique textures, shapes, color, and energy. We have over 60 varieties of herbs, 50 of produce and 40 of flowers, making that 150 total varieties! Each seed we plant feels like our baby and we can't wait to see all of them grow healthy and strong and form new relationships to each one.
We are animals

Who says winter is a time for seclusion, slumber, and consumption?

The foxes are on the side of the fields hugging the brush as they hurriedly scamper about looking for an unsuspecting meadow vole or some other source of energy. The snow geese happily honk in unison as they search for any sign of unfrozen water. The wind is painting with a paintbrush of tiny dried goldenrod flowers creating long arcing shapes in the white fluffy crystals. Reflecting on the growing season we share a warming dried tea blend of lavender, chamomile, and chaga. A biting numbing cold blows across the meadow. Coyote tracks crisscross through the frozen ponds and disappear into the cattail marsh. This is the coldest season of the year. A time for identifying the unique dried shapes of winter wildflowers, a time when wood frogs freeze solid, a time for hibernation, a time for trees to sleep, a time for harnessing our inner strength to destroy the confines of our domestication. We are animals. We are humans. We have unnatural laws, rules, sexual numbness, monetary struggles, addiction, hate, substance abuse, words that hurt, looks that kill. We have the luxury of consumption, this is one of our “luxuries” that keep us blind to the natural ways of the world. We are animals. We can harness our inner desires and create a world our grandchildren will be proud of. Our reclaimed wildness will comfort the earth and her beings. This is healing, for ourselves, others, and the planet. We are animals.

Eli with some dried Mountain Mint: Pycnanthemum Spp.... We found this growing under wild bee bergamont and surrounded by joe pye weed. When crushed the small gray flower heads smell strongly of mint. 

Seedbox: Ludwigia Alternifolia
I have been wanting to share this cool plant with eli since last winter. A perennial that shakes with the wind spilling its golden seeds out the one hole on the top of its box (hence its name). The little woody boxes looks like something that was crafted by gnomes.   Grows 1-3 feet in wet meadows. In the primrose family and in the summer sports yellow petaled flowers. You will not have a hard time identifying this unique plant.

The last fruit on this long forgotten pear tree... We have been enjoying the fruit and juice of these feral pears for the past few years. Its funny how we often get soooo many stares from passerby as we gorge ourselves on this sweet fruit...

Teasel:Dipsacus SylvestrisA biennial that can grow over 7ft tall. With a very large egg shaped spiky flower head it looms above other dried plants and remains strong during harsh winds.The flower essence has been used to treat Lyme disease. Teasel root helps you with joint and tendon issues, muscle pain and inflammation. We look forward to making a teasel tincture this summer. 

Yarrow:Achillea Millefolium
AKA Natures Stitches... We decided to forgo the flower head and focus on these wondrous dried lacy leaves that are clinging onto the stalk. We pulled one out of the ground to admire and found some small green leaves that were hiding under the snow. We ate every last green leaf at the base of the stalk that we could find, reminiscing its bitterness.
Mullein: Verbascum ThapsusThis spike that forms in its second year holds hundreds of seeds. Mullein a useful plant for healing burns, swelling, and ear problems can grow over 6 feet. The whole plant has a woolly like texture over the stalk and leaves. Hummingbirds have been known to use this "wool" to line their nests and native americans stuffed their moccasins with the felt textured leaves. Notice these majestic stalks along roadways, abandoned lots, and meadows...

Elder bushes the Earth will provide for you the things that you need and reveal them to you only when you are able to see

I spent the next few days reveling in the joy that comes from knowing that the Earth will provide for you the things that you need and reveal them to you only when you are able to see.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lessons from an Elder

Last week at the farm Eli excitedly pointed out to me that our Elder bushes were in full bloom; majestic clusters of tiny white flowers sprang from the branches. We took in their beauty, breathed in their goodness. We spoke about their healing properties and many medicinal benefits. I had heard of people using Elderberry syrup for colds and flu with much success, but was not sure where to find the berries or if they were native to our region. Thankfully, we've got some growing at the farm and plan to start making medicine with them this year.
I left the farm in good spirits: high on a hard day's work and freshly dispensed plant knowledge. Later that evening, I was driving on a country road and spotted what appeared to be another Elder bush. I quickly turned back and collected a sample to identify. My idea was to come back later and collect the entire bush. I was pumped. Well, imagine my excitement when I turned into my driveway and noticed the very same plant growing right along the edge of our property! Confirmation came from several field guides and a quick internet search; I've got my very own Elder bush growing at home. It must have been there all along, but I had not noticed it until then.
I spent the next few days reveling in the joy that comes from knowing that the Earth will provide for you the things that you need and reveal them to you only when you are able to see. More research was done on the many uses of the plant- medicinal, culinary, and other. I pondered over whether to harvest the flowers now and use them in teas or wait until the berries show up later in the year. The decision was made to wait it out and collect as many berries as possible for use in medicine. I could hardly wait. My love affair with the Elder bush had begun.

Now is a good time to point out that the property I call home is not owned nor fully maintained by myself alone. In the hubbub of my daily life I failed to mention my newly formed friendship with the Elder bush to those who share in the responsibilities. Alas, my beloved bush was cut in half by an unknowing weed wacktress: devastation, then mourning. *Cue sad music.

Today I decided to do some more research- a coping mechanism of mine. In my searching I found these sparkling gems:

Death is a symbol of rebirth, transformation, change, and initiation. The sun is rising; a new day is being born. The blooms symbolize the rejuvenation that we will experience by shedding our old skin, our worn-out ways, for the rebirth of self.

Death of the old is necessary for the new to emerge. The old is like the compost heap, full of rich experiences from which new forms emerge. 

The elder is a very adaptable tree, quite able to regenerate itself in many ways. It can be rooted from a branch and re-grows limbs quickly, allowing it to recover from damage of both natural and unnatural assailants with equal ease. 

I honor the energy of Elder, which sees the end from the beginning.

Throughout many lifetimes I have been here.

I have the knowledge that I have changed myself again and again.

I will start from where I am now, and continue to persist in my path.
I will succeed.
So mote it be.

Ah ha! I had believed my lesson to be that of opening myself up to receive and being fulfilled. While that did happen and I do feel provided for, I know now that I (and you) can learn so much more from this. Here's a sample: 
  • Spending time at the farm leads to awesome things.
  • Talking to Eli about what is growing on the farm is invaluable time spent. 
  • The Elder bush is a veritable medicine chest AND makes tasty food. 
  • Opening up to what the Earth provides allows for abundance, healing, and growth.
  • Talk to the people you share responsibilities with about the things that are sacred to you so they do not unwittingly destroy them. 
  • Shit happens; it all works out anyway. Bushes get cut down and they grow back, especially the Elder bush. We recover. 

With Love,

Monday, December 30, 2013

Women in War (1940)

Women in War (1940)
Directed by John Auer
Starring Wendy Barrie, Mae Clarke, and Elsie Janis
Released by Republic Pictures
Running time: 71 minutes
Availability: very rare
Grade: D

Women in War is emblematic of the na├»vely casual and overly romanticized outlook the movie-going public had in those months of 1939 and early 1940 that historians now refer to as the “phony war,” before Dunkirk, when the situation changed dramatically. During the very same week that this film was released to theatres, global newspaper headlines told the horrific story of the British Expeditionary Force’s chaotic evacuation from France, which forced the public to reformulate its attitude and its commitment to the total war effort. It’s unlikely that a film such as this, which employs a wartime milieu without the gravity it demanded, would have even been made had it been scheduled for production just a few months later. The spate of nursing pictures — even the overtly romantic ones — that would soon issue from the studios went out of their way to not only demonstrate the value of nurses, but also the incredible risk and toil required to be one.
The film does lip service to realities of war, as early on O’Neil tells her recruits: 
“I hope none of you have come here with the beautiful notion that war is noble and romantic. Some of you dewy-eyed creatures may be under the impression that it will be your function to soothe the fevered brows of handsome young men when on duty, and to philander with the convalescents when you’re off. Unfortunately, war isn’t like that.”

Yet that seems to be precisely the notion that all of the nurses have, and the film does nothing to dispel them. There are no wounded soldiers to tend to, no tragedies along the way, and no sour news from other fronts. The war seems terribly far away, if it’s even happening at all. All our nurses have time to do is chase fliers, and all they have to be concerned with are the most immature aspects of their schoolgirl romances. The film’s finale is its most damning sequence: When the nurses are ordered to drive desperately needed medical supplies to the front, Gail — our ‘woman scorned’ — childishly forsakes her duty in order to exact revenge on Pamela. She diverts their vehicle into an evacuated French village that is under heavy bombardment, hoping to get them both killed. When O’Neil realizes what has happened, she too drives her truck into the village — showing audiences that as far as these nurses are concerned, the needs of the wounded on the front lines finish a distant second to their own personal drama. And when the shells really start dropping, too many of the nurses lapse into hysterics.
In June 1940 the Battle of Britain was in the offing, and the terrifying nights of the Blitz would then follow. It was a time when English and Canadians — and soon Americans — of all ages and from all walks of life were asked to make extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of their nations and one another. Women in War is a shallow film that fails to measure up to the requirements of its time. Its women are shallow, silly, and incompetent rather than confident, devoted, and strong. When inspiration was needed, it stooped merely to entertain. 

The Dibbuk Box

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Possession: The Dibbuk Box - A Review

[The paranormal investigator will see you now]

So I finally got to see the new Jewish-flavored horror movie Possession, and my assessment is....meh. The centerpiece is really a domestic drama of a disintegrating family. The first two acts are dominated by this, and the box is, what, a symbol of the toxic emotions penetrating the family? Not that I object to deeper meanings, I rather like them, but I prefer more horror leavened with metaphor than melodrama spiced with horror metaphors.

And as for the Jewish part (which only really comes to the foreground in the third act), well, it feels like not so well-conceived window-dressing. For example:

  • Dybbuks are a form of pneumatic (spirit) possession, not, as the movie indicates, demonic possession. We have become rather casual about how we use words. Spirits are usually some manifestation of dead humans, rather than infernal entities. This is actually important, and it is what make the dybbuk tradition of Judaism so distinctive from your run-of-the-mill Exorcist/Rite/Constantine possession. Because Jewish adepts (there is no office of exorcist in Judaism, the writers got that right) are dealing with two souls, the possessed victim AND THE DEAD SOUL, their project is doubly therapeutic - to help both regain the right path. This involves expelling the spirit, but also getting him/her on with the journey into the afterlife. 
  • The "name" of the demon is a strange conflation of the dybbuk tradition with the much earlier greco-roman Jewish belief in named demons (ala The Testament of Solomon). 
  • In Jewish dybbuk traditions, dybbuks do not possess "innocent" or "pure" souls, but invade those whose lives have made them vulnerable to such infestations through sin and lax observance of the Jewish faith. 
  • The fearful shuffling of the elders is pretty silly. Dybbuks are not contagious. 
  • Other than the little news story that inspired this movie, the "dibbuk box" itself is not a part of the authentic dibbuk tradition. WHAT WE DO SEE is a couple of accounts of Jewish exorcism where the adept forces the spirit into a bottle (ala the djinn tradition). This is taken as a sign the exorcism was successful. What did they do after that? I've never seen a "spirit disposal" report, but I assume the now takanah (repaired) spirit is released to continue its gilgul (transmigration). 
  • Jewish rituals of expulsion are usually communal affairs - at least a minyan (quorum of ten) is present, and often the whole community that can fit in the house participates
So what did they get right?

  • Jewish "exorcists" are any menschlik person (yeh, Matisyahu, nice film debut) with the knowledge to perform the rituals - rabbis, local holy men, the educated.
  • The recitation of Ps. 90, the "Psalm of Affliction," along with Ps. 121, 16, and others, is the centerpiece of this Jewish ritual. 
  • Though the explanation doesn't make a lot of sense to me, Jewish occult beliefs do regard mirrors as potential doorways between the living and the dead (Read Chaim Vital's autobiography, for example).
  • Tallisim (prayer shawls), shofarot (rams horns) and other Jewish ritual objects are often integrated into the process. 
So what can I say, given this movie and the slightly older The Unborn, except perhaps Jews should simply be happy that we have "arrived" - Hollywood is finally as open to making crappy movies about Judaism as it is to making crappy movies about Catholicism and Protestantism. For something better, I suggest The Secret (Israeli), the golem episode of the X-Files, or even Keeping the Faith.

Oh, and you can read my book, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Walking Dead: Jews, Judaism and Halloween

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Walking Dead: Jews, Judaism and Halloween

So what do Jews, Judaism, and Halloween have to do with each other? Nothing, of course. Neither the holiday or the date has any Jewish connection whatsoever. None. The time when Jewish spirits come out to play is Sukkot (See - Sukkot: Gathering of the Spirits in the archive) and it has none of the tone of fear, terror, or deceiving the spirits that is associated with Halloween.

But that's not to say Judaism does not have a rich and vivid lore about spirits, monsters, and the undead. So I thought I'd share with you one aspect of this - Jewish lore on zombies. The term "zombie" comes out of West African tradition, but the idea of an re-animated corpse without it's neshamah ("soul") pops up in a few places in Jewish literature.

Director George Romero has defined how we think about zombies in the 21st Century, having set up the "zombie rules" in his movies Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead: Zombies are flesh-eating corpses who must undergo physiological decapitation (be shot in the head) to be stopped. Ok, so the Hollywood zombie is really more of a ghoul, a creature derived from Islamic folklore, but whether you call them zombies or ghouls, the walking dead are much different in Judaism.

Jewish undead traditions overlap the bigger and more prominent ideas of T'chiyat Metim, "Resurrection" (body and soul restored to perfected existence in the World-to-Come) and the Golem (an artificially animated being). Perhaps the reason there are not more than a few stories of the animated dead is that the very idea violates an aspect of Jewish law that most Jews take quite seriously - kavod ha-met, "showing respect for a corpse." Kavod ha-met is why Jews generally don't put our dead on display in open-casket ceremonies, why we don't embalm, why we are fastidious about collecting all the parts for burial (ever notice those in the films of bus bombings in Israel, the ones in reflecting vests picking through the debris? Most of those aren't Israeli CSI, they are ZAKA, a group of pious workers who ensure all parts of people get a proper burial), and why we are cautious about organ donation. Animating a corpse for the ephemeral needs of the living, even if possible, is unseemly.

Yet there are stories. According to most of the legends, animated corpses are created by an adept, rather then rising spontaneously. As in some Golem traditions, a divine name of power is used, either written on a parchment and then inserted under the tongue or sown into the skin, or inscribed on an amulet placed on the corpse (Sefer Yuhasin, Shivhei ha-ARI, Meisa Buch). Zombies are raised mostly so that they can talk: relating secrets about the World-to-Come, the divine spheres, or to solve a crime with knowledge known only to the deceased (Meisa Buch, Meisa Nissim, Jahrbuecher). In this last aspect, these traditions are also closely related to the hiner bet or hiner plet (Yiddish, "Catatonic"), a condition in which a person falls into a death-like state for days, or even weeks. Their only sign of life is that they speak sporadically, revealing the secret sins of people in the community, giving divine messages, or instructing us from the beyond about how we the living need to better oursleves.

So, if you are planning to attend someone else's Halloween party this year (should a Jew really be hosting his own?), a Jewish zombie is definitely an option; and its better then a run-of-the-mill zombie - they only groan, while you get to tell people off.

Also consider these Jewish costume options:

The Angel of Death (Jewish authenticity junkies go with a sword dripping gall, not a scythe)
The Sar (princely angel) Metatron (fiery body with 365,000 eyes)
Behemot (a gigantic ox)
Leviathan (a sea dragon)
Ziz (a giant chicken)
Dybbuk (ghostly style, but always be sure to be clinging or hanging onto someone living)
Lilith (hairy body, bald head - unless you want to do the "succubae" incarnation)
Golem (clay complexion, word "Emet" on your forehead, not much of a conversationalist)
Ketev Meriri, the demon "Bitter Destruction" (He is scaly and hairy and rolls about like a ball)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

One who studies in order to do

"Rabbi Yishmael bar (son of) Rabbi Yossi said: One who studies Torah in order to teach is granted the ability to study and to teach. One who studies in order to do is granted the ability to study, to teach, to observe, and to do."

The answer I would like to suggest is that doing does not mean simply observing the commandments. It is not a dedication of the hands. That minimum is certainly required of us all. Rather, it implies studying in order to change oneself. It means being open to the Torah and its teachings and being ready to be moved and inspired by them. The Torah -- even areas with little practical relevance -- has an effect on a person who is ready to integrate its teachings. The highest goal in studying is not only to observe the commandments. It is to become different: a more sanctified and inspired human being.
This is the reason why the Talmud plays such a great role in Jewish life and in the study halls of the yeshivas (rabbinical colleges). The Talmud is filled with the lively discussions and debates of the Sages. It contains the intellectual investment which went into the development of the Oral Law, together with the accompanying energy and vitality.

When we study the Talmud, we not only study facts and conclusions. We relive -- and become a part of -- our heritage. We take part in the very discussions which animated the lives of the scholars of old. We begin to think in the manner our Sages thought. Developing, fathoming, formulating the concepts of the Talmud, experiencing the passion and intensity of the debates -- as well as becoming acquainted with the scholars who collaborated in its writing: this is what changes us as individuals. The Torah is not an "ology" -- a area of organized, scientific study. It is life. It is a way of thinking and of viewing the world. The true student of the Talmud is one who wants the Torah to become a part of him, who wants to become a true Torah personality.

A Chassid once came to his Rebbe, proudly proclaiming that he had gone through the entire Talmud six times. The Rebbe wisely countered: "You've gone through the Talmud, but has the Talmud gone through you?"

This form of Torah study is far superior to learning to teach. Teaching requires a very real clarity in Torah concepts and definitions. The true teacher is one who has a more profound understanding of the Torah than one who studies for his own edification. He must master the Torah's concepts and be able to articulate them, to explain and expound them to others. And this is no small feat. In the Talmud, R. Chanina remarked, "I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students" (Ta'anis 7a). Teaching forces a person to ask himself (or be asked) basic questions of definition and to clarify and hammer out concepts and principles. Our mishna states that one who sincerely, devotedly, and realistically sets his goals thus high will be blessed with this talent.

(All of this is a rather far cry from the old saying, "Those who can't, teach." That may have been the case for many of the teachers we all suffered through once upon a time. But a much higher ideal is asked of the true Torah teacher -- or of any teacher for that matter.) 
One who studies to do, however, wants more than to understand clearly. He wants to incorporate and make the Torah's lessons a part of his life. He wants the Torah to enter his psyche and change his heart.

And to such a person our mishna offers an insight: Not only will he experience personal revelation himself, but he will become the capable teacher as well. If a person assimilates the Torah's teachings and lives them, if they becomes truth and reality to him, he will be able to impart them to others when the time comes. Teaching is not only a matter of sharpening our communication skills or employing engaging teaching techniques. When we speak sincerely -- because it is life to us -- people will recognize this and appreciate it. An old Jewish saying goes, "Words which come from the heart enter the heart." I have personally been most moved by educators who were honest and unassuming, but whose words were sincere and heartfelt. A polished vocabulary, sense of humor, eye contact etc. are all valuable tactics, but in the final analysis, Torah and truth can only be transmitted by the person of truth.
R. Yochanan Bechhofer
(The definition of studying to do was pointed out to me by .)

Thursday, December 26, 2013



The Lowly Tasks

Our sages tell us that the rod Moses used to bring the plagues upon the Egyptians was carved with the names of the six mothers of our people (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah), the twelve tribes, the ten plagues, and the great name of G‑d.
Certainly, the noble and lofty ideas and ideals represented by the matriarchs and the tribes of Israel are “worthy companions” for G‑d’s name on Moses’ rod. But the lowly tasks of bringing frogs, lice and boils upon the Egyptians seem an incongruous “match” with the Almighty’s ineffable name—
Until we call to mind the principle of G‑d’s particular providence and watchfulness over every detail of the universe. G‑d is concerned not only with lofty generalities, with the world as a whole or an entire species as a whole, but also with “lowly matters” (such as punishing the Egyptians) and with the smallest details.
Some individuals feel that their purpose in life is to revolutionize the world, to revamp society. It is not worthwhile to devote their superior talents to correcting “small matters.”
In particular, there are some rabbinical leaders who declare that their attention is devoted exclusively to matters of great import. In Torah study, they explore only the most esoteric and abstruse discussions. In the area of service of G‑d, they ponder profound axioms of philosophy encompassing the entire Torah. In the field of communal affairs, they attempt to show how all of humanity’s ills could be remedied by application of the principles of justice. In the arena of worldly affairs, their sermons eloquently explain the need for global democracy; they comment on nuclear warfare, and stress the need for summit meetings of the world’s leaders.
The “simple” matters of Shabbat laws and Shabbat observance, keeping kosher, the laws of marital life or the details of blessings to be made over food do not befit their exalted status. Such “lowly tasks” are best left to the gabbai, the synagogue warden, or at best to the assistant rabbi, for the duty of a great rabbi is to address himself exclusively to matters of global nature, to attract attention with startling new statements and to make front-page news.
Let these rabbis content themselves with emulating their Creator! If the Almighty interests Himself and watches over even the smallest detail of the universe; if bringing lice and hail upon the Egyptians is not too “lowly” a task to be associated with G‑d’s great name—then he too should give attention to the smallest detail. It is precisely in the “simple tasks,” teaching the Torah laws pertaining to day-to-day living, that G‑d’s kingly presence finds expression.1
1. Based on Likkutei Sichot, vol. 6, p. 305.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism Paperback


The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism Paperback

Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism


Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism
JEWISH MYTH, MAGIC, AND MYSTICISM is devoted to all aspects of Jewish esoteric traditions and occult lore. It is the official blog for the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism. The JMMM has been recognized as one of the top 50 Jewish blogs on the internet in 2010

Monday, September 02, 2013

Machnasei Rachamim and Selichot: Jewish Angel Liturgy at the High Holy Days

Whenever a congregant reads something I have written, or I share a bit of Jewish esoteric tradition from the pulpit, I inevitably have some say to me, rather emphatically, “Jews do not do that!” To this I always respond, “In 3000 years, living on 6 continents, some Jew somewhere has done everything.”

One need go no further than the Selichot prayers for the days leading up to the High Holy Days. For here we encounter the prayer Machnisei Rachamim, “Conveyors of Compassion.”  This is a prayer petitioning the angels to intervene with God:

Conveyers of compassions, obtain our mercy before the Master of compassion,
Makers of prayer, make our prayer heard before the Hearer of prayer.
Makes of wailing, make our wail heard, before the Hearer of wailing.
Conveyers of tears, convey our tears before the King who yields to tears.
Strive to raise up supplication, raise up supplication and plea,
Before the King, high and exalted. The King, high and exalted.

Whoa, stop right there. “Jews do not do that!” Well, there is ample case that that opinion is correct. The rule that Jews should pray only to God, and not to intermediaries, extends back to Talmudic times: “If troubles come upon a person, do not entreat the angel Michael or the angel Gabriel. Rather, entreat Me alone and I will help you immediately.” (T.Y. Berachot 9.1). Maimonides makes this normative, “It is only fitting to pray to God and it is not fitting to pray to any other.”

The Maharal of Prague was sufficiently troubled that he amended the wording (Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha'Avodah no.12), an innovation that did not catch on.

In modern times, no less an ultra-Orthodox authority than the Hatam Sofer wrote that at Selichot he personally skips over this prayer (Orach Chaim no. 166), a shocking confession from the leader of a community that insists ALL of the tradition is sanctified and obligatory.  

The prayer has been entirely edited out of Selichot liturgy in the modernist Reform movement.

And yet…At least one midrash exists that endorses the idea of angels as intermediaries of our prayers (Shir Hashirim Rabba to 2:7). And many Jews worldwide recite the words “barchuni l’shalom…”, “bless me with peace”, when they sing the popular Shabbat hymn, Shalom Aleichem.
Here I quote a wise gentile:

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" – Emerson

Some defenders have argued that this behavior reflects our lowliness at this time of the year; we feel unworthy to address God directly.

Being historically minded, and noting that this prayer is found only in the Ashkenazi (northern European) tradition, I suspect it was written when Jews were surrounded by a Christian culture that emphasized the use of divine intermediaries (saints) and even had services in honor of specific angels (Michaelmas).

Whatever the rationale, a traditional Jew has to grapple with this odd bit of our angelic tradition.

To learn more, look up the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism available at Amazon.http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050/sr=1-1/qid=1159997117/ref=sr_1_1/002-7116669-7231211?ie=UTF8&s=books

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About me

LocationTexas, United States
IntroductionGeoff Dennis is rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami and teaches Kabbalah and Rabbinic Literature in the Jewish Studies Program at the University of North Texas. He is the author of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, a 2007 National Book Award finalist, and recipient of an Honorable Mention for the 2007 Jewish Library Council Book Award. He has written numerous articles. The most recent, "Purity and Transformation:The Mimetic Performance of Scriptural Texts in the Ritual of Taharah," is in the Journal of Ritual Studies 26 (1), 2012.
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Thursday, December 19, 2013

The 10 Martyrs of Malchut

Legs and the 10 Martyrs

"Gate of Reincarnations": Chapter Five, Section 7

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Legs and the 10 Martyrs
The martyrs paved the way for us
It is possible for the Nefesh, Ruach, or Neshama of a person to elevate its sparks that were immersed in the depths of the kelipot. They will be rectified through him, like what was explained concerning the deaths of the Ten Political Martyrs. See there.
To comprehend what is being said here it is necessary to understand the kabbalistic explanation of the Ten Political Martyrs. Following is a brief summary of what was taught in Sections 5 - 6.
The Ten Political Martyrs are called, literally, the Ten Martyrs of malchut. Their souls ascended to malchut of Atzilut, which is called the Shechina. Because of their ascent it became possible, even in these later generations when spiritual power is severely diminished, to complete the rectification of the sparks that are supposed to be raised from the kelipot to the malchut of Atzilut.
Historically, the time of the Ten Political Martyrs was the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. The rule of the Romans over the Land of Israel and the Jewish People was at its height. The oppression was great, violence was ubiquitous, and sin was extremely prevalent. At that time the Romans grabbed ten leaders of Israel and condemned them to death, hoping in this way to forever eliminate Israel as an independent identity, G-d forbid. The Ten Martyrs were cruelly tortured and murdered. Their martyrdom is commemorated during the prayers of Yom Kippur, and it is praiseworthy to weep over them at that time. Now, the words of the Ari (Etz Chaim 39:1, p.2:132b) will continue the description of those times from the kabbalistic point of view.
The time of the Ten Political Martyrs was the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. At that time sin was so prevalent that people did not have the power to purify the sparks through prayer and to raise them up in the secret of ma'n.
Whenever the sparks are rectified through our Torah, mitzvot and prayer, they ascend to the malchut of Atzilut, where they are refurbished into rectified partzufim that emanate blessing and knowledge until our world is penetrated by those good things. The beginning of this process is called the raising up of mayin nukvin [female waters, abbreviated as ma'n], and it has already been discussed somewhat in Chapter Three, Section 8.
It was as if the world had no more purpose At the time of the Ten Martyrs and the destruction of the Temple, the people did not have the power to raise ma'n. It was as if the world had no more purpose. It certainly could not continue to endure if the purpose of Torah, mitzvot, and prayer could not be accomplished.
Moreover, even the ma'n of bina descended downward and got mixed up once again among the kelipot, as it is written, "For your sins your Mother was sent away" (Isaiah 50:1).
The ma'n of bina-Imma [Mother], moreover, does not normally descend to the lower realms among the kelipot. Therefore, we do not need to raise them from the kelipot back to the world of Atzilut. That this ma'n began to descend into the realm of the kelipot was another indication that the world was on the edge of destruction.
The physical sufferings of the Ten Martyrs...made possible...the raising of ma'n… The holy Zohar says, furthermore, that the souls of these extraordinary tzadikim were totally pure, but their bodies were given over to the Evil Side. The Ari explains that the physical sufferings endured by the Ten Martyrs at the hands of the evil torturers made possible, once again, the raising of ma'n through prayer, mitzvot and Torah. In this way the world was saved.
In addition, in Chapter 36 the Ari will explain that the physical sacrifice of the Ten Martyrs gives hope and inspiration to all the later generations. Also, because of them it is possible for all the later generations to raise ma'n. If they, through the sacrifice of their lives and the physical suffering that they endured had not opened the way for our tikunim to ascend to the Shechina, then we in these later generations would be without hope because of the intense levels of impurity from which our souls must ascend.
Malchut of Atzilut is called the Shechina. She is exiled from the world of Atzilut to descend among the kelipot in the lower realms.
In the lower realms she is covered by the souls of the soul body of Adam that have also been exiled into the realm of the kelipot.
Throughout the lower realms are strewn sparks that belong to the souls of the soul body of Adam who cover the Shechina exiled into the realm of the kelipot.
When we pray, study Torah and perform mitzvot, then we release the sparks from the kelipot and they ascend to malchut of Atzilut. She receives them and returns with them to the world of Atzilut. This ascent is called Female Waters [ma'n]. When they reach the world of Atzilut they become the germs to draw down illumination from above. At this point they are comparable to the female zygote.
The ability of the various levels of soul to rectify their corresponding sparks is enhanced by the interconnectedness of souls who give and receive assistance from each other.
In these later generations, because of their diminished spiritual power, rectification would be entirely impossible if it were not for the assistance consequent upon the interconnectedness of the souls.
When the spiritual level descends so low that the world is on the verge of destruction, then physical sacrifice can restore spiritual power. The classic expression of this phenomenon was the Ten Martyrs of malchut.
[Commentary by Shabtai Teicher.]
By Rabbi Yitzchak Luria as recorded by Rabbi Chaim Vital; translation from Sha'ar Hagilgulim by Yitzchok bar Chaim; commentary by Shabtai Teicher
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria […Ashkenazi ben Shlomo] (5294-5332 = 1534-1572 c.e.); Yahrtzeit (anniversary of death): 5th of Av. Buried in the Old Cemetery of Tzfat. Commonly known as the Ari, an acronym standing for Elohi Rabbi Yitzchak, the
G-dly Rabbi Isaac. No other master or sage ever had this extra letter Aleph, standing for Elohi [G-dly], prefaced to his name. This was a sign of what his contemporaries thought of him. Later generations, fearful that this appellation might be misunderstood, said that this Aleph stood for Ashkenazi, indicating that his family had originated in Germany, as indeed it had. But the original meaning is the correct one, and to this day among Kabbalists, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria is only referred to as Rabbenu HaAri, HaAri HaKadosh [the holy Ari] or Arizal [the Ari of blessed memory].
Yitzchok bar Chaim is the pseudonym of the translator, an American-born Jerusalem scholar who has studied and taught Kabbala for many years. He may be contacted through: webmaster@kabbalaonline.org. He translated the Ari's work, "Shaar HaGilgulim;" his translation into English (but with much less extensive commentary than offered here). Information about his translation in book form may be obtained through www.thirtysevenbooks.com
Rabbi Chaim Vital c. 5303-5380 (c. 1543-1620 CE), major disciple of R. Isaac (Yitzchak) Luria, and responsible for publication of most of his works.
Shabtai Teicher, a descendant of the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Reshab, was born in Brooklyn in 1946 and settled in Jerusalem in 1970. He studied for over 7 years with one of the outstanding and renowned kabbalists of our generation, Rabbi Mordechai Attieh, and has also studied deeply in various other fields of Jewish scholarship. He is a specialist in Lurianic Kabbala, edited and annotated the first eleven chapters of our English rendition of "Shaar HaGilgulim," and completed his manuscripts for "Zohar: Old Man in the Sea," in both Hebrew and English, shortly before his unfortunate passing in November 2009.