Guest Drash: Shimmering Spirit and Counterfeit Coins

By Reb Judith Goleman, May 2016

This week’s Torah portion, Behar, gives us instruction to let the land rest from being cultivated every seven years.  Then after seven cycles of seven years we are instructed to celebrate the “Jubilee Year” – when slaves go free.  We are to “proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants”. People who have lost their homes get to return to their original home.  Themes of freedom and of coming home.

The last few verses of this Torah portion instruct us to not worship idols, and to keep Shabbat.

It seems to me that this Torah portion can be read as immensely rich with metaphors about how to live our own lives.

We could say that this whole Torah portion is permeated with a sense of the integrity of things in their own nature – and the integrity of us in our own nature.

So, the nature of the land is to be honored and given full power every seven years.  During that year we are not to exploit the land that year or cultivate it toward our own ends.  Here is a poem about the land’s longing to be free, placing it in our own time. “Roll Away the Stone” by Larry Robinson.

This fecund earth has lain covered long enough.
It wants to throw off its asphalt blankets,
Stretch and yawn and send forth
Ten thousand blades of grass.
Behind their dams, rivers dream of the sea.
They yearn to burst their bonds and run wild,
To feel the caress of the banks and beyond
to sing their ancient songs of joy and abandon.
Something has been calling to you
for longer than you can remember.
Calling you to step out into the light, into your life.
It doesn’t matter whether you think you’re ready or not.
The time has come
Roll away the stone.  
Roll away the stone.

If we are the slaves, metaphorically, that need to be set free in order to step out into the light, into our lives? If we are the ones who need to return home.                                                     

What does it mean to be “free” and what does it mean to come home?

Let’s look at these concepts from a perspective of Kabbalistic/Hassidic thinking.

According to the Kabbalah, we, and everything else in the world, has a beautiful holy essence, of joy, of truth, shining with light of real freedom.  In the deepest sense, says the Baal Shem Tov, there isn’t any place that the Divine isn’t present. When we can allow ourselves to move into awareness of that shimmering Divinity,  we are truly home.

But God has created our world in such a way that this shimmering essential true nature is hidden from us unless we seek it out – God wants us to claim our essence and act from it, but only out of absolute free choice.  We have freedom to NOT seek to come closer to God.  “Divinity hides, hoping we’ll come and find it.”

When we act out of truly wanting to do an act of kindness we are moving toward our own nature. When we truly appreciate the beauty of this creation or the beauty of other people, we are moving toward our own nature and toward experiencing the creation in its real nature. The more we experience the inner joy of aligning with our own inner Divinity, the more it draws us, attracts us.  In some sense, we can long to become servants of Divinity in all our actions.  Servants of God may be in the state of the most joy and freedom.

We are absolutely free to be schmoes.  But when we act harmfully to someone else, we’re moving further away from our own nature, and our inner light is becoming more hidden.

And in real life, with its outer distractions, and with our own inner mishagass, it’s difficult to stay on track of what is the pull of our essential inner freedom and deepest nature, and what is the pull of the latest I-phone or the pull of a really excellent insult we might be able to deliver.  Here’s what the Sufi poet Hafiz says about these issues:

I know the voice of depression
Still calls to you. 

I know those habits that can ruin your life
Still send their invitation.

But you are with the Friend now
And look so much stronger

You can stay that way
And even bloom

Keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From your prayers and works and music
And from your companions’ beautiful laughter

Keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From the sacred hands and glance of your
And, my dear,

From the most insignificant movements
Of your own holy body.

Learn to recognize the counterfeit coins
That may buy you just a moment of pleasure
But then drag you for days
Like a broken man
Behind a farting camel.

You are with the Friend now.
Learn what actions of yours delight Him,
What actions of yours bring freedom
And Love.

Whenever you say God’s name, dear pilgrim,
My ears wish my head was missing
So they could finally kiss each other
And applaud all of your nourishing wisdom!

O keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From your prayers and work and music
And from your companions’ beautiful laughter

And from the most insignificant movements
Of your own holy body

Now, sweet one,
Be wise.
Cast all your votes for Dancing.

So let’s all hope that we can recognize the “counterfeit coins”, which are, I would say, the idols that our Torah portion is warning us about.

Let’s rest in the beauty and peace and awareness of nature that can be part of our Shabbat time.  Let’s strive to turn toward the Sun of our own inherent shining holy nature, and move toward the freedom that comes from serving the truest parts of ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom!