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Love/Respect & FTWMI: The JOyG of Being (the “missing” Tuesday post) May 9, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Shavuot, Suffering, Tragedy, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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Many blessings to everyone, and especially to anyone Counting the Omer (Lag B’Omer or Lag LaOmer)!

This is a “missing” post for Tuesday, May 9th. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“Tio, kio malamas vin, ne faru al via ulo. Tio estas la tuta Torao; la resto estas la klarigo. Nun iru studi.”

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation. Now go and study.”

– quoted from the story of Hillel the Elder “[teaching] the meaning of the whole Torah while standing on one foot,” translated into Esperanto and English by Dr. L. L. Zamenhof

It is not the point of the story – and, in some ways it doesn’t matter – however, today I am wondering “Which foot?”

According to the Talmud a potential convert to Judaism went to two famous rabbis of the 1st century and asked to be taught the whole Torah while standing on one foot.* Rabbi Shammai insulted the man and threw him out. Rabbi Hillel (the Elder) taught a lesson about respect, which some commentators say is also love.

Respect/love that’s the important part of the story. However, today, I am also wondering about which foot. Because, which foot determines which leg and which hip bear the weight of the lesson – and which leg and hip, represents the (symbolic) foundation of the teaching.

“Yes, how my love this moment here is ripe for us
Yes, you and I so brave against the years
If nothing’s left to live we must find a way
There’s reason yet to live
There’s something left to give
We must find a way
There is so much to give”

– quoted from “When Nothing’s Left” by Royal Wood

As I often mention this time of year, Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) indicates that the Tree of Life has ten sefirot (“emanations,” attributes, or manifestations) of the Divine – seven of which are associated with the body. For instance, the right leg/thigh is associated with the fourth attribute, Netzach, meaning “endurance,” “sustainability,” “victory,” and “persistence.” Meanwhile, the left leg/thigh is associated with Hod, which can be defined as “humility,” “gratitude,” “splendor,” and “glory.” I often reference this in relation to the Counting of the Omer, a 7-week period of prayer and reflection which begins on the second night of Passover. Each night, for 49 days, people count the days of the Omer and reflect on a combination of two of the sefirot.

We’re heading towards the end of the fifth week; and so, the focus is on how each attribute – lovingkindness, strength, balance, endurance, humility, bonding, and stewardship – shows up in relation to Hod. Sunset on Monday marked the beginning of Lag B’Omer (or Lag LaOmer) – Day 33 of (or in) the Omer, which is Hod She’b’Hod. The 33rd day has an extra special significance and is treated differently from the other days. The reason it’s different is related to hope – gained, lost, and regained – and, also, to that first lesson regarding respect/love.

They said by way of example that Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of students in an area of land that stretched from Gevat to Antipatris in Judea, and they all died in one period of time, because they did not treat each other with respect.

– quoted from Yevamot 62b:9 in The Koren Talmud Bavli Noé (Vol. 14 Yevamot 1), with commentary by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz and English from The William Davidson digital edition  

I often refer to Counting the Omer as a preparation ritual, similar to other observations and celebrations that fit within the rubric of kriya yoga. What I don’t often mention is that the beginning of the 7 weeks is also a period of mourning related to Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students and the lost hope that their deaths represent. Obviously, so many people being lost at once would be devastating and heartbreaking. However, the communal hopelessness is also related to the fact that the 24,000 were preparing for the return of the Temple.

Yet, somehow, despite focusing on the scholarly aspects of their faith, they got it wrong.

How? How could so many students of Torah not respect/love one another properly? How could so many students of one of the greatest rabbis not understand a foundational element of their teaching? According to some commentary, they did not love those that had different opinions and perspectives. Rather than learning from one another, they believed they could only respect/love those who shared the same views. So the were struck down by a plague.

Some scholars say the plague that killed them was an actual disease (as it is indicated in the text); others say it was a metaphor for war against the Roman Empire. Either way, Lag B’Omer (or Lag LaOmer) is the anniversary of the day when the plague ended – or when a revolt led by Simon Bar Kokhba achieved a victory against the Roman Empire. It is also the anniversary of the death one of the students from Rabbi Akiva’s second cohort: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose life is celebrated as a symbol of hope for the future.

All the activities people put on hold during the period of mourning, resume on the 33rd Day of the Omer. Additionally, some people will make a pilgrimage to sacred sites. In some communities, people build bonfires to symbolize the ways in which people marked the beginning of the holidays and the sabbath in medieval times and the fires Bar Kokhba’s soldiers would have used to communicate. (Similarly, children may use toy boy and arrows to reenact the revolt.) Bonfires and torches are also symbolic of the mystical fire that surrounded Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai as he shared his wisdom of the Torah on his last day. Finally, the fires symbolize the light of the Torah and the return of that light to the Jewish people.

They are a reminder that Rabbi Akiva didn’t give up – even when all were lost and he hit the proverbial wall.

And the world was desolate of Torah until Rabbi Akiva came to our Rabbis in the South and taught his Torah to them. This second group of disciples consisted of Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yosei, Rabbi Shimon, and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua. And these are the very ones who upheld the study of Torah at that time. Although Rabbi Akiva’s earlier students did not survive, his later disciples were able to transmit the Torah to future generations.”

– quoted from Yevamot 62b:10 in The Koren Talmud Bavli Noé (Vol. 14 Yevamot 1), with commentary by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz and English from The William Davidson digital edition

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in 2020. One quote was moved. Additionally, the first and third paragraphs have been slightly revised.

“For there is no doubt that the most radical division that it is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort towards perfection; mere buoys that float on the waves.”

― from The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset

My friend Bob P once told me this joke: “There are two kinds of people in a kayak, the people that just fell out and the people who are about to fall out.” I find his joke is a pretty apropos metaphor for that feeling of “hitting the wall” during [the] pandemic; if you haven’t hit the wall, you’re about to hit the wall. The same can be said for some of life’s greatest heartaches. While it might seem trite to suggest that you can tell a lot about a person by how they get over/under/around/through the wall, it doesn’t change the fact that [what we’ve been through and are going through] is all part of our circumstances and, to paraphrase José Ortega y Gasset, we are (in part) our circumstances.

Born in Spain, today (May 9th) in 1883, Ortega y Gasset was an existential philosopher and writer, as well as a bit of an activist/social reformer, who believed that life was simultaneously fate and freedom, but that freedom could only be experienced within a given fate. In other words, we must play the hand we’re dealt – but, and this is key, we decide what game we’re playing with the hand we’re dealt. In fact, Ortega y Gasset encouraged actively deciding and creating a “project of life” and, in doing so, create meaning not only for one’s self, but also for others.

Yoga Sūtra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.

Yoga Sūtra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

– The “gunas” fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference)

It may seem strange, even counterintuitive to some, to draw parallels between the work of 20th century existential philosophers and psychologists (or psychoanalysts) and the work of the ancient yogis (and medieval rabbis). Yet, remember, Patanjali, Vyasa, and the authors of the sacred texts like the Upanishads were explaining their life experiences – just like modern day existentialists – and codifying their life philosophies. When you get right down to it, all of this comes down to an understanding of the nature of things and the nature of ourselves. So, once again, we are back to the same two questions: “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?”

José Ortega y Gasset was a strong proponent of creating one’s world and being an active creator rather than a passive receiver. The second section/chapter of the yoga sutras (“The Foundation on Practice”) begins by focusing on how we are creating our world and our experiences in the world – sometimes unconsciously.

“Life cannot wait until the sciences may have explained the universe scientifically. We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness: it is always urgent, “here and now” without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point-blank. And culture, which is but its interpretation, cannot wait any more than can life itself.”

– from Misión de la Universidad (Mission of the University) by José Ortega y Gasset

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05009020 JOyG”]

*NOTE: In most translations of the Talmud, it clearly states that the gentile was the one standing on one foot during the lesson.

### ### “YO SOY YO Y MI CIRCUMSTANCIA” ### ###


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