Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – March, 2013

Households, cities, countries, and nations have enjoyed great happiness when a single individual has taken heed of the Good and Beautiful. . . . Such people not only liberate themselves; they fill those they meet with a free mind.

– Philo (1st century BCE/CE Hellenistic Jewish philosopher from Alexandria, Egypt)

Eknath Easwaran, 20th century spiritual teacher and author of books on meditation and ways to lead a fulfilling life, wrote:

Just as we live in a physical atmosphere, we are surrounded also by a mental atmosphere. And just as the air we breathe may become polluted, our mental atmosphere can be polluted by negative thinking. If trees were not always releasing oxygen into the atmosphere, scientists tell us, all life on earth would suffer. On a smoggy day the trees along the freeway look grey and drab in the haze; they do not seem to add anything valuable to the landscape.

Yet they are performing a vital function: they are taking in our carbon dioxide and giving us oxygen in return.

A person whose mind is free from negative thinking spreads a life-giving influence in much the same way that a tree gives oxygen. Although a selfless man or woman may seem to go through the day doing nothing extraordinary, without them nothing would revitalize the atmosphere in which we think. By being vigilant, and not encouraging negative thoughts, all of us can offer this vital service – which benefits everybody, including ourselves. [from Eknath Easwaran’s Thought for the Day, easwaran.org/thoughts-for-the-day-quotes.html. Thank you to Pat Nowak for introducing me to this daily email.]

The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, a word containing a root for narrowness and constriction. Egypt is named for its primary geographical feature, a thin strip of fertile land adjacent to the Nile, surrounded by dry, unforgiving, desert. Spiritually, however, Mitzrayim/Egypt can be understood as a mindset, that of constricted, narrow-minded stuck-inside-the-box thinking.

The spiritual Passover is a process of freeing ourselves from the small box in which we may find ourselves, especially when we are living in crisis mode. Those who are constricted by negativity see the world through that negative lens. Their experience is that the world is a hard, unforgiving place. The world has given them a hard time, so they proactively push back by attacking the world with antagonistic and negative thoughts. It is an inversion of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you think negative thoughts about yourself, then you assume that your neighbor is similarly plotting negative actions against you.

Freedom is the ability to breathe, calm the mind, and realize that the world does not hate us. When we breathe out love and positive energy into the world, those around us breathe in the fresh oxygen. They feel better, and radiate happiness and calm. We are surrounded by calm, happy people, which reinforces our own sense of security and well-being, shalom.

This is what it means to leave Mitzrayim and cross through the Sea of Reeds into a place of Freedom.

May you have a liberating Passover. May you climb out of the box of Egypt, stretch and open up all of the constricted places in your body, and feel the great happiness of freedom.

***

Some people are curious about the variety of things that I do, in addition to writing sermons and bulletin articles, answering questions by phone or email, going to Board and Committee meetings, teaching religious school classes, leading study groups, and visiting members of the congregation. Here are some of my activities of the past month:

  • I represented the Jewish community on a multi-cultural/faith panel during a Spectrum Health day long educational workshop on Cultural Diversity: The End of Life.
  • I was a guest speaker in a World Religions course at Cornerstone College.
  • I studied everything every written by Stanislavski Method to prepare for my role as Stephen Foster in the Purimshpiel (if you missed it, you can find a rave review in the New York Times).
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