2250 Story: Challenging Heaven

Rabbi Zusha of Hanipoli (18th century) was famous for his simple faith. Many stories are told about him, but perhaps the best known relates his response to students who asked why his teachings were different from those of his own teacher. Zusha's answer was: "When I come before the judges of the heavenly tribunal, they are not going to ask if I lived my life like Moses, or if I lived my life like Abraham. They are going to ask me if I lived my life to be the best Zusha I could be." In his youth, Rabbi Zusha and his brother, Elimelech, traveled from town to town, learning with different rebbes. In those days, many Kabbalists were wandering ascetics, sleeping in the study halls and living on morsels of bread and scraps of food--except on Shabbat, when their stomachs usually would be filled. The Kabbalist learns much more from the experience of life than from books. (Hear this story mp3: 1206)
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2251 A Story about Story Telling

The kabbalistic perspective of the soul is that upper levels--neshama, chayah and yehidah--always remain pure. This is a difficult teaching for people who equate the soul with the actions of a person. How could someone who murders, rapes, or commits other heinous crimes have a pure soul? On the other hand, we might ask how the level of soul in union with the Divine could possibly be impure? One of the best known stories about the Baal Shem Tov is based on the theme of the purity of the soul. It is a wonderful story about a story teller who forgot his stories. It begins the day of the Baal Shem Tov's death, when he called his students to his bedside and gave each an assignment. Some were sent to other masters, some were given leadership roles, some were sent home. But one of his most cherished students was given a strange commission. Reb Yakov Yosef was told by the master to live as a wanderer and to make his living as a story teller.
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2252 Shlomo's Story of the Snuff Box (print)

On one occasion I remember in the late 1980's, Reb Shlomo arrived at a Jerusalem Old City apartment at 10:00 PM, even though it had been rumored that he would be there two hours earlier. The living room of the apartment was filled to capacity. Word had been spreading since three in the afternoon that he would be teaching this night. This is the way he usually arrived in Jerusalem: no flyers, no posters, no formal announcements. The grapevine was extraordinary when Reb Shlomo was in town. On only a few hours notice, he would invariably teach to a packed audience. This night he told the group a story that has become one of my favorites: THE SNUFF BOX "Everybody knows that holy beggars hold the world together. Never, never pass a holy beggar. Walk across the street, go out of your way. Many times it is Eliahu haNavi [Elijah, the prophet], and oh, if you only knew, if you only knew... (hear this story mp3 1226)
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2253 Reb Zalman: The Heart of Evil (print)

Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi calls himself "the Last of the Mohicans." With Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach gone, Zalman is the final bridge between the old country of tradition and modern post-holocaust Judaism that chooses to look to the future as much as to the past. Reb Zalman is sometimes referred to as the cybernetic rebbe. His computer skills are well advanced and his future planning often includes technology yet to be developed. Yet, he is an old time rebbe, filled with hasidic tales and anecdotes that embrace the heart. He teaches in many languages, and even his English is multi-dimensional. His sharp and unusual insights invariably are provocative and inspiring for audiences. (Hear the mp3 versions of the following story and commentary: 1220 and 1221)
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2350 The Gravity of Love

A number of years ago at our Shabbat table in Jerusalem, a Catholic woman named Mary sat quietly listening to the stories and teachings that were going around. On a couple of occasions, I noticed that she was gently weeping. We were not discussing sad events, but I knew that her soul was being touched in a mysterious way. Many tears spill in Jerusalem. During a lull in the conversation, Mary got the courage to speak. She said, "I know this sounds strange, but when I was eleven years old I was fascinated with the Diary of Anne Frank. I must have read it fifty times. I dreamt about it.
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2351 Adam and Eve as Siamese Twins (N)

The first Adam/Eve is called by Kabbalists Adam Ha-Rishon (primoridal human consciousness). This in no way resembled the human form as we know it. The Jewish sages speak of it in hyperbole. It had stupendous proportions, reaching from earth to heaven; it stood astride earth from one end to the other. It could see to the far reaches of the universe, for the light at that time was called Ohr Ein Sof, the limitless light, a metaphor for pure awareness. Adam Ha-Rishon did not see with eyes, it saw with an immeasurable "knowing."This teaches that as each and every mortal being is a spark from the original Adam Ha-Rishon, we all have the potential to perceive everything knowable in this universe.
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2352 Pure Souls and Soul Mates

The Zohar teaches that before God sends souls into the world, they are formed into male and female pairs. Then they are placed in the hands of an emissary, named Night, who has charge of conception. The pair is separated and each is taken down to be born in his or her time. The Zohar goes on to say that these souls are rejoined by God at the right time into one body and one soul.1 This teaching raises many questions. For example, is it really suggesting that there is only one person in the world destined to be the soul mate of another? If this were the case, what happens if one does something to cause his or her own early demise? What happens if one makes the free will choice to be with a person who is not their soul mate?
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2354 Birthing a Soul

A common belief in currency these days is that a soul chooses its parents. Often this is an ironic observation, "Well, you must have chosen a difficult father for a reason!" "I guess the fact that you don't get along with your mother was to teach you something about a past life." An opposite belief is that randomness is the operative factor. Out of millions of spermatozoa, only one penetrates the wall of the ovum. It is happenstance which is closest, fastest, strongest, and this will determine the DNA of the fetus. Jewish mysticism rests between these viewpoints. On the one hand, the existence of free will in the universe guarantees that a certain degree of randomness will always be present. On the other hand, as everything occurring in the lower worlds has its reflection in the upper worlds, there will be a relationship and mystical attraction between souls.
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2355 Creation Constantly Perfects Itself

"God represents perfection. This universe represents the potential for perfecting. Can we ever expect to make the universe perfect? The kabbalistic answer is no. Because our purpose is to continuously perfect ourselves and the universe. If we achieve perfection, we are finished and the universe would cease to exist. "Indeed, for the Kabbalist, perfection is an absurd goal because an essential aspect of God's perfection is the creation. You see, perfection cannot be perfect without the potential for perfecting! The Baal Shem Tov has said, 'The book of the Zohar has, each and every day, a different meaning.' This is a crucial understanding."
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2356 The Vehicle to Higher Awareness

In ancient times, before the word Kabbalah was used, Jewish mystical practitioners were called yoredei merkevah, those who descend in the chariot. They had many other names as well: masters of the mystery, children of the king's palace, those who know wisdom, the understanding ones, those who entered and left in peace, those who reap the field, and so forth. These mystics were immersed in teachings that collectively were called ma-asey merkevah, the work of the chariot. The teachings were closely guarded secrets and an aura of great reverence was built around merkevah mysticism. As an added preventative to keep the secrets hidden, the mystics let it be generally known that dabbling in these secrets would result in serious illness and possible death. Thus, a spell was cast around Jewish mysticism supported by statements such as the talmudic dictum: "the work of the chariot may not be taught to anyone, unless this person is a sage."
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2357 Story: The Mysterious Mark of Sanity

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov tells the story of a king who discovered that his entire supply of grain had been contaminated by a strange fungus. The grain looked the same and tasted the same as normal grain. There was no way of knowing anything was different, except for one little problem. Anyone who ate this grain lost all contact with true reality. In simple terms, when a person ate this grain, he or she became deranged. The king and his advisor were the only ones who knew about this problem. They discussed their options. They were rapidly running out of uncontaminated grain and there were no alternatives to feed the nation. In two more days they would be out of regular grain and they would have to open the contaminated storehouse, or all the people of the kingdom would starve. A new grain supply would not be ready for almost a year, and there was no assurance that it could remain uncontaminated.
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2358 Five Dimensions of the Soul

They are not separate universes, but are concentric, one within the other. Assiyah is the world of physicality; yetzirah, the world of emotions; beriyah, the world of the intellect; atzilut, the world of the spirit; and adam kadmon, the primordial source. Although we give different names to the worlds, they are not really separate from each other. Each of these worlds is a lens through which we gain a unique perspective of reality. Thus, the Kabbalah teaches that the soul has five levels, five dimensions of awareness.
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2359 The Mind of God

The essential issue upon which all is balanced for creation to be creation-ing is that of free will. Throughout the ages, theologians have debated whether or not human beings have the ability to choose freely. It has been a key issue because free will imputes that God does not control the universe. If God is in control then we are not really free to choose; God always "knows" what we are going to do. If we really have choice and God does not "know," then God is missing essential information. The Torah is built upon the foundation of free choice for humankind. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a description of free choice. From that point forward every biblical story involves free choice.
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2360 Story: The Dirty Penny (print)

In the city of St. Petersburg two-hundred years ago, a desperate situation arose in which a ransom of ten thousand rubles was demanded for a young bridegroom. This was not an uncommon experience in those days, when unscrupulous police, military, or other people in power would arrest or kidnap Jews and demand ransom, for they knew that Jewish law required the Jewish community to do anything--including the sale of a precious Torah scroll--to save a Jewish life. Three talmudic students in the area realized that the only place to get such a sum was from a wealthy man named Ze'ev. Now Ze'ev is the Hebrew word for wolf, and this man was aptly named. He was ravenous for wealth and would do anything to acquire it. He could also be vicious when turning people away who requested donations. He never contributed to anything.
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2361 God is not what we think

GOD IS NOT WHAT WE THINK IT IS What is God? God is not what we think It is. God is not a thing, a being, a noun. It does not exist, as existence is defined, for It takes up no space (or includes all space but is not limited by it) and is not bound by time. Jewish mystics often refer to It as Ein Sof, which means Endlessness. Ein Sof should never be conceptualized in any way. It should not be called Creator, Almighty, Father, Mother, Infinite, the One, Brahma, Buddhamind, Allah, Adonoy, Elohim, El, or Shaddai; and It should never, never be called He. It is none of these names and it has no gender.
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2362 Heal the Soul with Consciousness

The lower seven sefirot represent ordinary consciousness. All the things that normally go on in our minds could be defined by combinations of sefirot in the lower seven. They represent the physical universe, the three dimensions of space and the fourth of time. This is the level at which ordinary consciousness operates. However, we have access to higher realms of consciousness. Various names are attributed to the experience of these higher levels, such as satori or cosmic consciousness. In Kabbalah, we call it chochma and binah consciousness.
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2363 How a Mystic Reads Torah

Kabbalah assumes that there are hidden secrets in everything. We must see things without our eyes, hear without our ears, know without our intellect. If we are able to penetrate the surface of appearances, we will discover the mysteries of creation. This is particularly true of Torah. It is often viewed by Kabbalists as the "mind of God." All we need is to learn how to decode it. Kabbalists use a wide variety of tools in search of hidden codes. One tool is the analytical method of gematria in which each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a numeric value. {illustration A} The first letter, aleph, has the value of one; the second letter, bet, the value of two, and so on. After yod, which equals ten, the numbers climb by tens until they reach kof, one hundred. Then they climb by hundreds to the last letter tav, four hundred.
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2364 The Mystical Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden is one of the best known and least understood tales in biblical literature. This story has been interpreted in dozens of ways, many of which suggest that it is the prototype for understanding the nature of good and evil, the relationship between men and women, or the purpose of humankind. Unfortunately, however, teachings of Jewish mysticism on this subject have rarely been made available to the general public, and thus a major component for understanding the deeper wisdom teachings of this story have remained virtually unknown.
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2365 Fighting the Angel of Death

The Angel of Death is a messenger of God. It has been associated with the dark angel Samael, who represents Satan, but acts only under the direction or approval of God. Many stories describe the battle between the Angel of Death and humans. This angel sometimes must resort to deception, for it is not all powerful. Indeed, occasionally Death is defeated. King David once asked God when he would die. God responded that no person would ever know in advance the time of their death. But because of David's merit, he learned that he would die on a Sabbath day when he was seventy years old. So David spent every Sabbath day exclusively in the study of Torah, for it is said that the Angel of Death has no power over anyone fulfilling one of the commandments. One Sabbath day, which was also the holy day of Shavuot, David heard a strange, wondrous sound in his garden. He went to see what was making the noise and the steps leading to the garden collapsed, killing him. The Angel of Death had caused such an alluring noise, David forgot that death was near.
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2366 How we can Change Fate

The soul is the kabbalistic key to discovering the secrets of life and death. If we constantly remind ourselves that soul dimensions should never be construed as physical entities, but are "patterned forces" like bubbles passing through various realities, we can use the teachings about souls to gain an uncommon perspective on the spiritual nature of the universe. In an remarkable zoharic passage, Rabbi Eleazar asks Rabbi Simeon a question: "Since God knows that people will die, why are souls sent down to the world?" Rabbi Simeon answered: "This is a mystery that is explained in the verse: 'Drink water from your own cistern and running water from your own well.'
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