Second Wednesday in Advent

"The Holy Thing" by Bruce Manwaring
“The Holy Thing” by Bruce Manwaring

“Everyone should open their heart very wide to joy, should welcome it and let it be buried very deeply in them; and they should wait the flowering with patience. Of course, the first ecstasy will pass, but because in real joy Christ grows in us, the time will come when joy will put forth shoots and the richness and sweetness of the person who rejoiced will be Christ’s flowering.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’”Luke 1:26-28

The eight-day Jewish “Festival of Lights” called Hanukkah starts next week. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees in reclaiming the temple in Jerusalem’s from the Greek-Syrian ruler Antiochus IV. As the people prepared to dedicate the temple, they realized they only had enough purified oil to kindle the menorah for a single day. Miraculously, the light continued to burn for eight days. Each evening of Hanukkah one more menorah candle is lit with a special blessing. The candles are not to be “used” for light, but only for enjoyment, savoring their beauty.

“We will prevail through the dark night,” sings Rabbi Shefa Gold in her Hanukkah song from Zechariah, “but not by might, and not by power, but by Your Spirit. These are the words of God.”

Jewish midrash tells an interesting story on how the first menorah was made. Apparently, Moses had a difficulty remembering God’s instructions on menorah making. Every time Moses left the mountain he would forget the pattern, so God engraved the design into the flesh of Moses palm. Torah scholar Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg says that after this experience Moses’ hands took on new power. Later, when Moses instructs Joshua to lead the Israelite force against Amalek, Moses does not direct with his staff but only his open hands. “In this gesture, according to one midrash,” writes Zornberg, “ Moses models prayer to his people fighting below. In a surrealistic description, their involvement in battle is refigured as a miming of Moses’ prayerful gestures: ‘they saw Moses kneeling down, and they knelt down, falling upon his face and they fell upon their faces, spreading their hands to heaven.’” Whenever the people modeled Moses, they prevailed.

What a powerful image of nonviolent resistance! In the midst of a battle, all the Israelites knelt down to pray as Moses instructed them. “As long as the Israelites gazed upwards and submitted their hearts to God in heaven, they would prevail,” says the Mishna Rosh Hashana, “and if not, they would fail.”

What healing of the masculine to you need in your life?

Ad … vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Tali Lowenthal: ‘Can Sin Be Forgiven?’

Dr. Tali Loewenthal was born in Haifa and directs the Chabad Research Unit, lectures in the University College on Jewish Spirituality, and he has authored “Communicating the Infinite, the emergence of the Habad School” and many scholarly and popular articles. Here’s his reflection on Moses in the cleft of the rock, titled “At The Highest Level.” I found in it deep wisdom for Lent.

“Can sin be forgiven? Can it be erased? Can it even be transformed into good? In the book of Exodus we read about the events relating to the making of the Golden Calf. This was an unfortunate transgression in which large numbers of Jews took part, combining idolatry, immorality and murder. Wisely, the women in the community kept away and so did the Levites.

After this mass betrayal of G-d and His teachings, Moses had to plead with G-d in order to prevent the Jewish people from being destroyed. For forty days he pleaded, alone on Mount Sinai, and was finally successful. G-d would bring the Jewish people to the Promised Land, and the broken Tablets of the Law would be replaced.

The interesting thing about this revelation, is that it comes in the form of a prayer At this moment we are introduced to another aspect of Moses: the person who seeks the deepest level of contact with G-d. He asks: “Show me Your Glory.” Moses wanted to reach the closest intimation of G-dliness possible for a human being.

G-d answered that He will put Moses in the crevice of the rock and grant him a vision of something of the Divine Glory. However, not everything can be revealed, for “man cannot see Me and live.”

Then comes the promised revelation. This is one of the most remarkable moments in the life of Moses and in the entire Torah. The interesting thing about this revelation of G-d, is that it comes in the form of a prayer. G-d teaches a prayer to Moses, a prayer which we recite in the synagogue. It is called the “Thirteen Attributes of Mercy”:

Continue reading “Tali Lowenthal: ‘Can Sin Be Forgiven?’”