Tag Archives: Jewish

“A Path with Heart” by Jack Kornfield

I recently attended a party at my friend Sonia’s house, and she had a copy of this book on her living room table. Since I am ever fascinated with books and which ones my friends are reading, I picked it up and scanned it quickly. I immediately realized that it was a book I needed to read, so on my next trip to the bookstore, I purchased a copy.

The book is essentially a how-to guide for meditators, offering practical suggestions for how to develop your practice and address certain challenges that may arise. In addition to being insightful and helpful, it is extremely well-written. Jack weaves in wonderful stories to elaborate upon his ideas, and does so in a style that is engaging and never dull.

There is a wealth of rich material in this book, and if you are interested in meditation, I encourage you to read it. But I would like to share a few passages that really resonated with me.

The first passage I would like to share concerns the pitfall of dramatic spiritual experiences.

The dazzling effect of lights and visions, the powerful releases of rapture and energy, all are a wonderful sign of the breakdown of the old and small structures of our being, body, and mind. However, they do not in themselves produce wisdom. Some people have had many of these experiences, yet learned very little. Even great openings of the heart, kundalini processes, and visions can turn into spiritual pride or become old memories. As with a near-death experience or a car accident, some people will change a great deal and others will return to old constricted habits shortly thereafter. Spiritual experiences in themselves do not count for much. What matters is that we integrate and learn from the process.

(p. 129)

I have had a fair amount of powerful and profound spiritual experiences, and I confess in my younger days they lured me into complacency, as well as down some less-than-wholesome paths. But it was all a learning process that brought me to the place I am today. I now try (yes, I only try) to practice humility as I progress along the path, and I am searching for ways to incorporate what I learn from my spiritual practice into my daily life. Because, really, all we have is this moment and we need to be the best we can be right here and right now.

These are extraordinary times for a spiritual seeker. Modern spiritual bookstores bulge with texts of Christian, Jewish, Sufi, and Hindu mystical practices.

(p. 157)

How true! And this does not even consider the wealth of digital texts available through online libraries. Rare texts that were once only available to academics and clergy are now readily available to those who seek the wisdom and insight. I have often pondered why I was fortunate enough to make it through the difficult stages of my life, especially when I saw many of my friends suffer an early demise. I can only assume that I was meant to be here, to explore the vast abundance of spiritual wisdom that is now a click or purchase away. It is certainly a great time to be alive, in spite of all the obvious social and environmental challenges that we face.

And with that, I would like to close with a quote that succinctly sums up the power of spiritual practice.

Spiritual practice is revolutionary. It allows us to step outside the limited view of personal identity, of culture, and of religion and experience more directly the great mystery of life, the great music of life.

(p. 325)

Yes, I believe that the next human revolution (or evolution) will be one of the spirit. Our species cannot survive unless we let go of our fear, our greed, and our hatred, and instead embrace and nurture that which we all share—the spark of the divine which exists within each and every one of us.

Thanks for taking the time to share my thoughts. I hope you found them inspiring.

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Jews in the Qur’an

I have been struggling with the mixed messages in the text regarding people of the Jewish faith. At some points, God affirms His covenant with the Israelites and states that the Qur’an is intended to reaffirm what was handed down through the Torah. But then there are other passages that are highly critical of the Jews, and if taken out of context, are easily used to justify anti-Semitic sentiments.

Here is an example of where God speaks favorably in regard to the Jews.

Children of Israel, remember how I blessed you. Honour your pledge to Me and I will honour My pledge to you: I am the One you should fear. Believe in the message I have sent down confirming what you already possess.

(p. 6)

Compare the previous passage with the following excerpt.

How evil their practices are! Why do their rabbis and scholars not forbid them to speak sinfully and consume what is unlawful? How evil their deeds are! The Jews have said, ‘God is tight-fisted,’ but it is they who are tight-fisted, and they are rejected for what they have said.

(p. 74)

Finally, Jews are depicted as being the most hostile toward Muhammad and the followers of the faith.

You [Prophet] are sure to find that the most hostile to the believers are the Jews and those who associate other deities with God;

(p. 75)

So having read the introduction to the text, I am aware of the importance of the context of these passages. My understanding (and I am not a scholar, so it is just my limited understanding) is that the text is critical of a certain group of Jews who aligned themselves with the Arab Meccans who persecuted Muhammad and his followers. It is unfortunate that snippets of text are pulled and used out of context to justify ideologies, which I believe happens way too often. And this goes for other religious texts too, such as the Bible and the Torah. Human history is brimming with instances where quotes were cherry-picked from these texts to justify what I would consider non-spiritual acts.

In all fairness, the text is also critical of Christians and Pagans. I’m not sure I whether I will explore those aspects of the text. Honestly, there are some spiritual and inspiring passages that I have noted which I would like to focus on in future posts. I’d much rather look at the positive and spiritually uplifting aspects of the text. That said, I will try to get another post up soon. Cheers!

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“She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron

Laurent Pecheux, 1762

Laurent Pecheux, 1762

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

This poem is from Byron’s volume of Hebrew Melodies. So as I read this, I kept that in mind and looked for hints of Jewish mysticism woven into the verse.

The central symbol in this poem is the moon, which appears at night and possesses both “dark and bright” aspects. Byron expresses a reverence to the lunar orb and acknowledges the connection between the moon and the divine feminine. As I considered this, the Jewish mystic connection became clear.

I suspect that Byron is making a reference to the Shekhinah, which in Jewish kabbalistic tradition is the divine feminine aspect of the godhead. The Shekhinah, like other goddess symbols, is associated with the moon, which represents divine light in the darkness.

The Kabbalah refers to the Shekhinah as feminine, according to Gershom Scholem. “The introduction of this idea was one of the most important and lasting innovations of Kabbalism. …no other element of Kabbalism won such a degree of popular approval.” The “feminine Jewish divine presence, the Shekhinah, distinguishes Kabbalistic literature from earlier Jewish literature.”

“In the imagery of the Kabbalah the shekhinah is the most overtly female sefirah, the last of the ten sefirot, referred to imaginatively as ‘the daughter of God’. … The harmonious relationship between the female shekhinah and the six sefirot which precede her causes the world itself to be sustained by the flow of divine energy. She is like the moon reflecting the divine light into the world.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

The Romantic writers were deeply interested in all forms of mysticism and the occult, so it does not surprise me that Byron found inspiration in Jewish mystical tradition.

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“Zealot” by Reza Aslan

Zealot

This book is an attempt to construct an historical account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout the book, Aslan emphasizes the distinction between Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus who was a rebellious Jewish preacher during the time of Roman occupation, and Jesus Christ, who was essentially a construct of the founders of the Christian faith.

Early in the book, Aslan clarifies the purpose of Roman crucifixion. This was not a punishment for common criminals, but something reserved for those who rebelled against Roman authority. In fact, the thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus were labeled “lestai,” which was the Latin word for bandit.

“Bandit” was the generic term for any rebel or insurrectionist who rose up against Rome or its Jewish collaborators. To some, the word “bandit” was synonymous with “thief” or “Rabble-rouser.” But these were no common criminals. The bandits represented the first stirrings of what would become a nationalist resistance movement against the Roman occupation. This may have been a peasant revolt; the bandit gangs hailed from impoverished villages like Emmaus, Beth-horon, and Bethlehem. But it was something else, too. The bandits claimed to be agents of God’s retribution. They cloaked their leaders in the emblems of biblical kings and heroes and presented their actions as a prelude for the restoration of God’s kingdom on earth. The bandits tapped into the widespread apocalyptic expectation that had gripped the Jews of Palestine in the wake of the Roman invasion. One of the most fearsome of all the bandits, the charismatic bandit chief Hezekiah, openly declared himself to be the messiah, the promised one who would restore the Jews to glory.

(pp. 18 – 19)

Aslan asserts that the reason that much of what is written in the Bible is historically inaccurate is because people in that time did not differentiate myth from reality the way we do now. Myth expressed spiritual truths and therefore did not need to adhere to historical accuracy.

The readers of Luke’s gospel, like most people in the ancient world, did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality; the two were intimately tied together in their spiritual experience. That is to say, they were less interested in what actually happened than in what it meant. It would have been perfectly normal—indeed, expected—for a writer in the ancient world to tell tales of gods and heroes whose fundamental facts would have been recognized as false but whose underlying message would be seen as true.

(p. 31)

From a historical perspective, what made Jesus so much of a threat to Rome and the Jewish priests at the time was his alignment with the zealot movement. This movement sought to overthrow the current socio-political system that ruled over Palestine during that period, thereby ushering in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’s view of the sole sovereignty of God was not all that different from the view of the prophets, bandits, zealots, and messiahs who came before and after him, as evidenced by his answer to the question about paying tribute to Caesar. Actually, his view of God’s reign was not so different from that of his master, John the Baptist, from whom he picked up the phrase “Kingdom of God.” What made Jesus’s interpretation of the Kingdom of God different from John’s, however, was his agreement with the zealots that God’s reign required not just an internal transformation toward justice and righteousness, but a complete reversal of the present political, religious, and economic system.

(pp. 118 – 119)

Aslan spends a lot of time looking at why the writers of the Gospels attempted to present Rome as not responsible for the death of Jesus, laying the blame more on the Jews. Historically, Pilate was a harsh ruler who would never have argued for the life of a peasant Jew. He would have just given the execution order and moved on without a second thought. But the writers of the gospels needed to appeal to Rome in order for their religion to gain acceptance. So instead, they pinned the blame on the Jews.

Thus, a story concocted by Mark strictly for evangelical purposes to shift the blame for Jesus’s death away from Rome is stretched with the passage of time to the point of absurdity, becoming in the process the basis for two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism.

It is, of course, not inconceivable that Jesus would have received a brief audience with the Roman governor, but, again, only if the magnitude of his crime warranted special attention. Jesus was no simple troublemaker, after all. His provocative entry into Jerusalem trailed by a multitude of devotees declaring him king, his act of public disturbance at the Temple, the size of the force that marched into Gethsemane to arrest him—all of these indicate that the authorities viewed Jesus of Nazareth as a serious threat to the stability and order of Judea. Such a “criminal” would very likely have been deemed worthy of Pilate’s attention. But any trial Jesus received would have been brief and perfunctory, its sole purpose to officially record the charges for which he was being executed.

(pp. 192 – 193)

I want to conclude by saying this is a very easy book to read. Although it is history, it reads like a story. It is not just a dry presentation of facts, which makes it an enjoyable read. If you’re at all interested in learning more about the history of that period, then pick up a copy of this book.

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“Sonnet 6: Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface” by William Shakespeare – Hidden Number Mysticism?

Shakespeare

Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure, ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thyself to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;
Ten times thyself were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:
Then what could death do, if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair,
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.

And we have yet another fair youth sonnet addressing procreation. But this one is a little more interesting, particularly in the use of metaphors and the incorporation of what may be some number mysticism.

In the first two lines, Shakespeare encourages the young man to have children before he gets too old. I really like the phrase “winter’s ragged hand.” It evokes an image of an old, weathered face, accompanied by aged hands with loose skin draped over the bones.

In lines 3 and 4, Shakespeare uses the vial as a symbol for a woman’s genitalia. The youth is encouraged to find a wife he can treasure and who will bear his children.

With line 5, things start to get a little interesting. References are made to usury, which in Shakespeare’s time was the loaning of money at an interest greater than 10%. We then have the word “ten” repeated five times. The number 10 has mystical significance. According to Pythagoras, 10 is represented by the decad, which is symbolic of the world and heaven and is fundamental to understanding the creation of the universe. For more on Pythagoras’ theory, here is a brief and informative article: Pythagoras and the Mystery of Numbers.

The next thing I would like to point out is the importance of the number 10 in Jewish kabbalistic mysticism. The Tree of Life contains ten sephirot. Basically, the ten sephirot are the divine emanations from God which are the basis of all creation. I do not know if Shakespeare possessed a firm grasp of Jewish mysticism, but I would not be surprised if his contemporaries were studying this and possibly shared some insight.

TreeOfLifeKabbalah

The last thing I want to point out about the number 10 is that the last mention of the number in this sonnet occurs in line 10. I personally do not think this is a coincidence. I suspect Shakespeare did this to emphasize the importance of this number.

I also want to comment on the last line. As I read it, I could not help thinking about Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, “The Conqueror Worm.” It is one of my favorite poems by Poe. If you’re interested, click here to read my thoughts on that poem.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 18

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

This is the final episode and is a long internal soliloquy depicting Molly Bloom’s thoughts as she is in bed after Leopold returns home. The episode is comprised of eight long sentences and is all stream of consciousness. Much of Molly’s thoughts are sexual: memories of past affairs, her current liaison with Blazes Boylan, her suspicions regarding Leopold Bloom’s clandestine sexual encounters, and her early days with Bloom. The language is beautiful and should really be read to be felt. I am not going to attempt to analyze the text from this episode; instead, I will discuss the structure of the episode, its symbolism, and how it ties in to the overall structure and larger theme of the book. I will preface this by saying that these are my interpretations. Feel free to use them, just include me in the citation.

The first thing to note about Episode 18 is that it opens and closes with the same word: “Yes.” I see this as symbolic for a circle, implying that there is an eternal cycle associated with the episode. Considering that Joyce employs the same technique in Finnegan’s Wake, where the book begins mid-sentence and ends with the first half of the sentence, I would argue that he is doing the same here. In fact, I would take this a step further and assert that Episode 18 is a circle within a circle and that the entire book is intended to be viewed as cyclical. Remember back to the beginning with the large S. The letter S is also the last letter in the book. I feel that Joyce structured the book to represent the eternal circle of existence: birth, life, death, rebirth. There are certainly an abundance of references and allusions throughout the text hinting at this, whether it is all the talk about metempsychosis or the circles cast upon the ceiling as Bloom and Molly lay together, or the circles of stars. Images of circles and cycles permeate this book.

Gustave Dore

Gustave Dore

The myth is eternal. The story which Homer put forth in the Odyssey is one that has been repeated throughout history and will continue to be repeated as long as humans exist. It is an archetypal story and Joyce knew that. With that in mind, he made his version a modern interpretation of the myth.

In addition to the cyclical structure of the book, I believe that Joyce also included number mysticism within the structure of the book. Let’s break this down a bit. The book is split into 3 sections and contains 18 chapters. First we will consider the importance of the number 3. Obviously, 3 would represent the trinity. It also represents the three stages of life: birth, life, death. It symbolizes the father (Bloom), mother (Molly), and child (Stephen). In addition, each section begins with a large letter: S, M, and P, respectively. I see here another mystical trilogy: Spirit, Mortal, Psyche (although, some scholars have also associated with the three main characters: Stephen, Molly, and Poldy [nickname for Bloom]). I could go on like this for a long time, but I think you get the idea.

Now let’s think about the number 18. First off, if we were to apply kabbalistic numerology to this (and remember, Bloom is Jewish), we get 1+8 which equals 9, which in turn is 3×3, or a double trinity. At this point you may be thinking that this is a stretch, but stay with me, because it gets deeper. In the Jewish faith, the number 18 has another important aspect. It is the numeric representation of the Hebrew word chai (pronounced “hi”). The English translation for chai is “life.” I believe that Joyce consciously chose to make Ulysses 18 episodes because the book is the perfect representation of life, with all its recurring themes.

I have to say that I feel somewhat sad that I am finished. I feel like I’ve gotten to know Bloom and Stephen personally. I also really got a lot more out of the book reading it a second time. So will I read it a third time? Maybe. I’ll certainly keep my copy. I hope you enjoyed the posts and if you haven’t read along, I encourage you to spend the effort and read it one day. I personally think it is worth it.

Cheers!!


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14

Episode 15

Episode 16

Episode 17

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 14

Tibaldi

Tibaldi

This episode corresponds to the oxen of the sun section in Homer’s Odyssey where Odysseus’s men slaughter the sacred cattle of Helios for food. In Joyce’s novel, the scene takes place in a hospital maternity ward where the men there are having an unruly discussion about pregnancy and childbirth. Essentially, they are profaning the sacred act of creating life, similar to the way Odysseus’s men profaned the sacred cattle by using them as food.

So far, this was the most challenging section to read, but also brilliant, in my humble opinion. I felt validated though when I found out I was not alone in seeing this as the hardest part of the book.

The style of Episode Fourteen, one of the most difficult in the novel, consists of imitations of chronological stages in the growth of the English language, beginning with Latinate and Middle English prose up to the chaos of twentieth-century slang. The progression of language is, in turn, meant to correspond to the nine-month gestation period leading to human birth. The imitations of the styles of different time periods and prominent writers seem parodic because the styles are somewhat exaggerated (some more so than others). The ultimate effect is to drive home the point that has been made more subtly in Episodes Twelve and Thirteen: narrative style contains built-in ideology that effects what is reported and how it is reported. Joyce shows this by allowing each different style to gravitate toward its normal subject matter.

(Spark Notes)

Throughout the episode, Joyce employs lots of imagery and metaphors associated with childbirth and cattle, solidifying the connection between this episode and the one in Homer’s epic. There are so many and they are embedded in such dense text, I could write a small book just exploring them. As such, I decided to just mention them and leave them to you to explore and interpret as you read through the episode. Instead, I want to use the rest of this post to look a little closer at two paragraphs that really struck me. They are long, but I’m including them here for those who need.

The voices blend and fuse in clouded silence: silence that is the infinite of space: and swiftly, silently the soul is wafted over regions of cycles of cycles of generations that have lived. A region where grey twilight ever descends, never falls on wide sagegreen pasturefields, shedding her dusk, scattering a perennial dew of stars. She follows her mother with ungainly steps, a mare leading her fillyfoal. Twilight phantoms are they yet moulded in prophetic grace of structure, slim shapely haunches, a supple tendonous neck, the meek apprehensive skull. They fade, sad phantoms: all is gone. Agendath is a waste land, a home of screechowls and the sandblind upupa. Netaim, the golden, is no more. And on the highway of the clouds they come, muttering thunder of rebellion, the ghosts of beasts. Huuh! Hark! Huuh! Parallax stalks behind and goads them, the lancinating lightning of whose brow are scorpions. Elk and yak, the bulls of Bashan and of Babylon, mammoth and mastodon, they come trooping to the sunken sea, Lacus Mortis. Ominous, revengeful zodiacal host! They moan, passing upon the clouds, horned and capricorned, the trumpeted with the tusked, the lionmaned the giantantlered, snouter and crawler, rodent, ruminant and pachyderm, all their moving moaning multitude, murderers of the sun.

Onward to the dead sea they tramp to drink, unslaked and with horrible gulping, the salt somnolent inexhaustible flood. And the equine portent grows again, magnified in the deserted heavens, nay to heaven’s own magnitude, till it looms, vast, over the house of Virgo, And, lo, wonder of metempsychosis, it is she, the everlasting bride, harbinger of the daystar, the bride, ever virgin. It is she, Martha, thou lost one, Millicent, the young, the dear, the radiant. How serene does she now arise, a queen among the Pleiades, in the penultimate antelucan hour, shod in sandals of bright gold, coifed with a veil of what do you call it gossamer! It floats, it flows about her starborn flesh and loose it streams emerald, sapphire, mauve and heliotrope, sustained on currents of cold interstellar wind, winding, coiling, simply swirling, writhing in the skies a mysterious writing till after a myriad metamorphoses of symbol, it blazes, Alpha, a ruby and triangled sign upon the forehead of Taurus.

(p. 414)

So there is a lot going on here. First off, we see liberal use of oxen imagery and allusions to birth. These are then connected to cycles, particularly cycles of rebirth, or metempsychosis. This is all connected to the collective unconscious, represented by the sea and also the heavens. The bull imagery is likely an allusion to Apis, the Egyptian bull deity who served as an intermediary between humans and Osiris.

Apis is named on very early monuments, but little is known of the divine animal before the New Kingdom. Ceremonial burials of bulls indicate that ritual sacrifice was part of the worship of the early cow deities and a bull might represent a king who became a deity after death. He was entitled “the renewal of the life” of the Memphite god Ptah: but after death he became Osorapis, i.e. the Osiris Apis, just as dead humans were assimilated to Osiris, the king of the underworld.

(Wikipedia)

We also have a lot of goddess symbolism woven into the section. Virgin birth and Immaculate Conception are hinted at, as well as the goddess Venus (represented by the daystar) and the Jewish Shekhinah from the kabbalah, who is the veiled and hidden aspect of the godhead.

Finally, the section is full of clear zodiac references. These tie into the overall theme of the cycles of birth and regeneration while strengthening the connection between human existence and the divine cycles as reflected in the heavens. Life and consciousness, like the zodiac, is an eternal cycle, and is sacred. The zodiac represents our spiritual and psychic connection with the universe. Joyce draws on all these various symbols to emphasize how sacred life is, and how childbirth is a key part of the eternal cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

zodiac

The next episode is the longest in the book, approximately 180 pages. It is written in the style of a play script, so it should go fairly quickly, but it may take me a little longer to finish that section and get a post up. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my thoughts.


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13


 

References:

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section14.rhtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apis_%28god%29

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