By Yonatan Gordon
11 Cheshvan is the day when mother Rachel passed away. As will be explained, it is also a day to remind ourselves about connecting to our true Jewish nature. And since we are now in the year of “nine” (תשעה, 5775), the time of pregnancy, let us also collectively give birth to our true selves; to give birth to something called, “natural consciousness.”
This past Saturday night I tuned into one of my favorite YouTube channels courtesy of Rabbi Moshe Genuth. He had posted the introductory class to this semester’s “Faith and Confidence” course of the Torat Hanefesh school of Jewish psychology, and I with coffee in hand welcomed the chance to watch it.
The Sugar Cube Meditation
During the class he recounted the story of how the Ba’al Shem Tov would drink tea with one hand, while holding a sugar cube in the other. As Rabbi Genuth explained, he was reminding himself of spiritual sweetness without consuming the external manifestation, i.e., the physical sugar cube. As King David writes in Psalms, “Sweet to my palate is Your word, more than honey!” And so he held the sugar in his hand and this was enough for him. This was enough to remind him about things that are sweeter.
Now we could ask a question: Why did he need to hold the sugar cube at all? Instead of holding the sugar, let him meditate on spiritually sweet things while drinking physically unsweetened tea?
The next morning during prayer I had placed my smartphone on the table directly in front of me. While it was upside down, the desire to check for updates swelled within. Just to glance at Gmail… to nimble quickly onto a news…
Staving off the gale force wind tide, I was reminded of this Ba’al Shem Tov story from the night before. Here I was attempting to communicate to the King of Kings and I was drawn to take a peek at my inbox.
Now this realization could have come without the smartphone. I could have meditated upon communicating with God without the Samsung Galaxy. But as in the story of the Ba’al Shem Tov, there were both the physical and potentially spiritual components to the story.
What this episode offered me was an opportunity to embark on a three-stage growth process (also from the Ba’al Shem Tov) called submission, separation, and sweetening. To explain the process in the context of this story, instead of repressing our desire to communicate, now that we realize that the smartphone and social media are not the answer (submission), we begin to ask what the answer is (separation), and then seek to implement the answer (sweetening).
For instance, whether a person is addicted to Facebook or has decided to abstain from it, either way, true separation has yet not been achieved. The separation stage means identifying with the Divine soul. While repressing the desire to “check” only delays the inevitable, what does help is to hold the sugar cube… to see the smartphone before you and consciously connect with the source of the desire to stay connected.
Kabbalah teaches that mother Rachel symbolizes the Jewish People. The exile of the Jewish People is referred to in Kabbalah as the exile of Rachel. And as Rabbi Isaac of Homil explains, liberating or “reconstructing” Rachel means returning the Jewish people to their true Jewish nature.
In exile, our true nature is concealed, unbeknownst even to us. But when we return to Israel we also return to our true identity. Jewish nature is much more than observing the commandments. It is a return to our natural, Jewish state of consciousness—when our entire identity is motivated by our connection to God.
Natural here means that the consciousness is always present, always streaming. And once this true identity is revealed, then everything will naturally be motivated by our intrinsic connection to God.
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh has books and seminars devoted to the concept of natural consciousness, but since you are now reading this article on or around 11 Cheshvan, the day of the passing of mother Rachel, I thought to end with another “sugar cube” meditation to help us experience some of the sweetness of natural consciousness.
Revealing Superhero Identities
In recent months, some of the most popular articles about social media have either been about how to abstain from it or how to replace the current platforms with something better. The inner reason for these articles is because the public, public consciousness, is beginning to awaken according to some of what was explained above. But presently, these articles on social media generally do not speak about the need to connect to God… to redeem from exile our natural, streaming consciousness of Divinity. So what then do they say? There are many examples, but the example that I thought to bring is related to Facebook.
There are many articles written recently that speak about abstaining from Facebook, on disconnecting the account, and so forth. But as explained, abstaining from Facebook at most represses the desire to feel connected, but doesn’t answer the question of why this desire welled up inside to begin with.
Part of building natural consciousness is to be sensitive to Divine Providence. Thus we can ask ourselves what does the public see as a viable replacement to Facebook. While the current replacement suggestion is also external, another sugar cube, at least it will help us chart the progress of where public consciousness is headed.
Interestingly, the main competitors mentioned last year and this year are attractive for the same reason. In March of 2013, I wrote how Tumblr was attractive as a potential replacement to Facebook because of the ability to use a secret “superhero” identities. And this year, the talk has shifted to Ello whose main attraction is that it also doesn’t “force” people to use their real names.
The reason I mention this is the reason I wrote this article. Behind the external drive to connect vis-à-vis technology is a deep desire to connect to our true Jewish nature. But unlike the desires of the animal soul and the ego that seek constant praise and acknowledgement, the Divine soul both doesn’t seek outside acknowledgement and is unlimited. To say it another way, it is our “superhero” identity within.
Thus, while social media has delivered one sugar cube after another, consciousness is shifting to a reality where the main question is not how many Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, or Twitter followers we have, but who are you? What identity have you chosen?
May it be the will of God that each of us give birth to our potential this year…starting today…to our “superhero” identities, thus redeeming our consciousness and liberating Rachel.