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  • Ruth Schapira

Judaism's Awareness of the Body-Mind Connection

Judaism offers an incredible teaching about how our minds and bodies work together, and it is so wise and true. Sure, we've advanced in uncountable ways in our understanding of the brain, neural connections between our minds and bodies, but the areas of the human being that I'm referencing here are beyond a microscope or an MRI.

Thousands of years ago, our sages understood the inner workings of the human being through a holistic lens, connecting what is in the mind to what would be realized in the body. There is an incredible orchestration between knowledge and action embedded in our tradition.

Let me explain. The Torah does not stand alone, and neither do mitzvot (commandments). Taken separately, each one does not actualize its potential.

Torah teaches us about living in community, what it means to live beyond yourself---to be responsible to others and also deferring and submitting to a Higher Source who is the ultimate judge of behavior. Engaging in mitzvot is the actualization of that ideal. Teaching without action is an abstraction, and doing without the teaching has no foundation.

The wisdom is that body and mind, heart and soul need to work in concert. We ensure this process by a practice of mindfulness...operational thousands of years before the term became well, so trendy. Pausing just a bit before learning or doing allows the space for the sacred to enter into our lives.

So, what does this mean on a practical level?

For me, when I engage in learning, saying a blessing helps me be aware of a much deeper wisdom that operates within the world...and when I do a mitzvah, saying a blessing beforehand allows me to be conscious to connect it to the Source.

This simple practice makes both my learning and actions more mindful, and I am uplifted as a result. By bringing awareness to all I do, I imbue everyday actions with a touch of the sacred.

If you don't already, you may want to try bringing God into your life in this way, by simply being mindful of who you really are (a pure soul) and your connection with the Source for doing what you already do. Saying a blessing will help, and you don't need to be formal about it. God is interested in a relationship, not perfection (otherwise we wouldn't be here in the first place). Each time you do this, you make a new neural connection in your brain, that opens up pathways to a more spiritual existence. Plus, you're reinforcing a tradition that speaks to your soul, thousands of years in the making.

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  • Ruth Schapira

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

We live in a tangible and physical world, and it is the very nature of our surroundings that creates automatic obstacles in connecting with HaShem. It would be an exhaustive list to mention all the ways that we are pulled into our material reality. We are constantly at a distance from the holy and spiritual. But this is in the very design of the human being, since we need to make choices, of our own free will, to connect with the Higher Essence of the Universe.

Yet, the biggest hurdle to overcome is our very own mind---we are trained to think logically, rationally, and practically---with science as a strong foundation, leaving little room for what we don't see with our senses.

However, we don't have to sacrifice any of that to come to accept that there might be a greater One that exists to bring about everything else in existence. Yet, this is only recognizable to us the faintest feeling.

Some of us recognize (perhaps most of you reading this) that there is a deeper spiritual reality which connects and underlies all things. We have a sense that there is a unifying force for the very fabric of life....beyond what is physically perceptible and that which is beyond our imagination.

And this is why we are seekers and learners.

Kabbalistic thought identifies this feeling that we have as a 'second recognition' that part of our inner soul was once connected to HaShem. The first recognition, so it goes, was lost when we were born into this world. It is this sense that lies at the core of the idea that every person is created "B'tzelem Elokim" God's shadow, so to speak. (B'tzelem Elokim is usually translated as "the Image of God, but the word 'tzel' - צל also means shadow). So, in that case, we are a part of the whole.

Remember when you first learned about the magic of a hologram? It was an amazing technology. You can remove the tiniest piece of a hologram, and it will be representative of the entire whole. [The word hologram originates from Greek, holos meaning whole, since it contains the total information of the object].

Our souls are like a part of a hologram, separate and disconnected but yet containing an essence of a larger whole. We contain an imprint of the whole, the One, B'tzelem Elokim.

Yet, when you think about it, isn't that how all of life is created?

Seeds remain seeds unless given the proper environment to grow into their full potential---a whole new tree. Yet each seed contains all the "DNA" to make it a tree.

Each cell in the human body contains all the DNA for the entire person. Yet, each cell does not become a turns into cells for eyes, toes, hands, all the organs, and on. It is truly amazing, spectacular, and-----miraculous. And so are we.

We can think of ourselves in this a vibrant part of creation ---- connected in a deep way to our Source. And we can make the conscious choice to connect, to be aware of who we are, at our essence---in our core. This is the way of all life.

  • Ruth Schapira

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Ahavah ~ Love

In Deuteronomy (Devarim / 6:5) we are told "And love HaShem, your God, with all your heart, and with your entire being and with all your resources"* which is known by so many of us as the third line of the Shema.

The "And love" part might, at first, seem like a command. And (see below) that's how most translations make it appear.

But if that's so, how can we make sense out of being commanded to love?

After all, in the Aseret HaDibrot / The Ten Sayings (commonly mistranslated as the Ten Commandments) we are not even commanded to love our parents, but to honor them!

How can we love what seems to be an abstraction? Sure, we might feel God's presence, sense that there is something beyond the tangible and concrete, and yes, we might even have a surer sense of God than other things in our lives...

But still, all this seems to exist solely in our minds and hearts. Plus, it's hard enough to feel a sense of the Divine while trying to rid ourselves of a "Hebrew School" image of God as a "man sitting on a throne in heaven" (and that's if you attended Hebrew School).

But let's look a little deeper at what God is asking of us.

Rambam, in the Mishneh Torah (commentary on the Torah, Yesodei HaTorah, chapter 2) says:

"What is the path [to attain] love and awe of God? When a person meditates upon [hitbonen] God’s wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, one will immediately love, praise, and glorify [God], yearning with tremendous desire to know [God's] great name…."

The love that we're being asked to give doesn't come naturally. The love is part of an eco-system of other behaviors. We have to work at it, just as in any relationship. If we're expecting to feel something, we have to do something.

And we have to work on it in steps---very, very small steps. For example, if we just examined only the first requirement of this love, that we should love with "all our heart" it might mean doing things that change the way we feel.

Like practicing gratitude. This can be as simple as writing down a list of 10 things that you find wondrous in the world. Different from a "Gratitude List" these are not things that you are personally grateful for, like your health, your family, your home...but for that which is all around you, every day and night, that you might take for granted. Like the fact that plants instinctively reach for the sun, or that the moon changes over a period of a month, in predictable phases, while the sun has an everlasting shine. Like that.

Try just this one thing and then, see if you begin to open your heart to Ahavat HaShem, Love of God.

And please, tell me how it goes for you.

*This is my translation of the Hebrew, which is usually translated as: "You shall love your Lord, your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."

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