the most whole heart

I had the great fortune, and fun, to have been part of a group of people from my synagogue who chose to step into our "official" roles in the community as B'nei Mitzvah ("children of the commandment" or, a deeper meaning that Rabbi Ted uses for Mitzvah, based on the word's linguistic root, is "path of connectedness"). The seven of us and our teacher, Amy, studied and sang and ate delicious food together and got to know and love each other for over a year, and two weeks ago welcomed family, friends, and our amazing community to co-create with us a space and time of powerful and very sweet blessing. It felt to me afterwards as if we'd all managed to catch and ride a huge wave together, and make it smoothly to shore, after a really long time of paddling in the sun and the rain (and sometimes in circles).

Each of us did a little talk (a "d'var," which means "word") about our "birth portion"--the part of the Torah that was being read the week that we were born. (You can enter your birthdate and find yours, here--Rabbi Ted teaches that our birth portion, like an astrological chart, contains seeds of wisdom that will bloom and ripen in specific and particular ways for each of us.) All of our little talks were very different, and came together to make a beautiful mosaic of meaning and experiences. Here's the transcript of my "word"
(well, pretty much - I forget to look at my notes when I'm talking) (and my birth portion is Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 to 11:25) :
Shabbat shalom! which means, Shabbat “hello”, Shabbat "peace", and Shabbat "wholeness".
Thank you to everyone here for sharing your radiant and singular presence with us—as Rabbi Ted said in a workshop the other night, this community is “a community of Presence.” My special thanks to my mother, and mother-in-law and father-in-law, and my sister (in this photo with me) and my brother-in-law, for coming from far away to be here today. And, to my husband Robert and our boys who have always been at the heart of my spiritual journey.

Jewish mystical tradition teaches us—and when I say “Jewish mystical tradition,” I really mean, “what I’ve learned from Rabbi Ted and the Bet Alef community,” because even if I read or heard some of the teachings years ago, they’ve only really made sense since being here—The tradition teaches us that every story in the Torah contains the essence of the wisdom of the whole; and not only that, but every word, every letter, and even the spaces between and around the letters, contain the essence of the whole teaching. Some of the teachers also say that every person and every being is like a letter of the Torah—so, each of us is a Way in, to the Whole thing, and the space between us, the relationships we have with things and with each other, are all ways in to the Whole, too.

As my friends Joel and Michelle often teach, "anywhere you dig deeply enough will take you Home”

The Jewish tradition gives us an amazing and beautiful framework for doing that digging, which consists of four layers of interpretation that I’m going to apply to my birth portion. I’ll touch on the first two just briefly, since it’s really the deeper two that make my “homing instinct” start to hum:

∑ The first layer is “P'shat” in Hebrew, which means “Simple”. This is the literal, surface understanding. I think of this as corresponding to the skin of the body (and you’ll see why I’m using body metaphors in a moment)

∑ The next layer is “Remez,” which means “Hint”. Where we start to see that the place where we’re digging is connected to lots of other places… so I think of this as being like the connective tissue of the body.

∑ The third layer is “Drash” or “Midrash,” which means “Search” or “Interpretation.” Now we’re looking between the lines, paying more attention to the spaces between. This is the realm of metaphor, poetry, archetypal energies. To me this corresponds to the internal organs, because in Chinese medicine--which is my other spiritual training and practice—the internal organs are respected as beings, with spirits, and functions, and minds of their own. Just like what we’ve all experienced, when we have a gut intuition that’s different from what our mind believes; or when our Heart or Lungs or Stomach, or some one of the other organs, tells us very clearly that it needs something or other, and right now, regardless of what the rest of the bodymind was happy to go along with…So we respect the organs as one of the ways that the universal archetypal energies move in us.

∑ The Fourth, last layer is “Sod,” which means “Secret” or “Hidden.” This is the most interior, deepest, and the vastest, realm—because here we begin to glimpse eternity. I think this level is the Heart. Which is one of the family of organs, but is also special amongst organs—in Chinese medicine, the Heart is the place where Heaven and Earth meet; it embodies the archetypal energy of the Emperor/Empress, who is the one with the most direct connection to the Way of Heaven—which in Hebrew we could translate as “Torah.”

My “birth portion” is in the section where Moses is giving reminders to the people, since they’ll be leaving the wilderness without him. Reminders to be good, to be grateful, to take care of the orphan and the widow and the stranger in their midst. And, it includes this very curious line, which in English is translated variously as: "remove the barriers of your heart," or "cut away the thickening around your heart," but which in Hebrew says literally to "circumcise the foreskin of your heart."

There are many many tribal and personal resonances that I could follow here, all of them like trails homeward, and so I’m just going to pick a single one.

Skipping the first two levels and entering in at the “Drash”/ ”Archetypal”/ ”Internal Organs” level:

It so happens that, in Chinese medicine, the tissue around the Heart, the Pericardium, which we also call the Heart Protector, is an important organ whose job is to choose what parts of the outside world will be allowed in through the Inner Gate, into the most private chambers of the Heart. In terms of our everyday lives, this is the energy of love & intimate relationship, and of our connection to what we allow to touch our Hearts.

In one school of thought of our medicine, we “diagnose” (or, “appreciate”) every human being as most strongly embodying the archetypal energy of one or two of the twelve main organs.
And in a play of cosmic resonance—one of those “serendipitous non-accidental accidents” that Margie spoke of—one of the organic energies I’ve been “diagnosed” with embodying most is this very one, the Heart Protector, that shows up in such an interesting way in my birth portion.
Because this is an energy given to me pay a lot of attention to, and to wrestle with, and to learn from, I can say from experience that one thing I'm pretty sure of is that there are many ways that the Heart Protector opens, allowing access to the Heart—“cutting” is maybe one way…Reb Nachman of Bratslav, whom Roger quoted, also said, “the most whole heart is the broken heart” (and btw, it’s not the Heart that breaks, it’s the Heart Protector). So, there’s breaking; and there’s also melting, and there’s softening. And maybe most pertinently for us, there’s choosing—just as the regular ritual circumcision doesn’t just happen all by itself, but is a tribal, and sometimes personal, choice.
“I Open My Heart to This Moment” (this is the song co-written by Rabbi Ted, which we opened the service with) is something we do on purpose, with intention.

To finish with just a glimpse into the level of Sod, the Secret and the Heart—which is probably more accessible in silence than in words, anyway—because this is the level we arrive to, when the Heart Protector is opened wide to the whole world, and the World can touch the deepest part of the One Heart, when we’ve gone all the way down, and all the way in, and we’ve come all the way Home, what we find in is that the whole manifest world is already in there with us. The One manifesting as the Many, and the Many remembering ourselves to be the One.

Like in this “secret teaching” my Zen friend Paul gave me the other day—because, you know what, all the Many secret teachings--of course--lead to this same One Heart:
That what we think of as the world outside of us…is really our own tender, sensitive, heart, born out from our own being, and into the world, and there it is, all over the world, disguised as the Many.

I Open My Heart to This Moment—and we’re all in there together.

Shabbat Shalom.
A big hug and deep bow to my dance partners Anya, Margie, Alan, Roger, Peter, Meli and Amy. I'm glad we did it, I'm glad it's done, and I'm so glad it was with you.