October 19, 2011
Happy Endings (The Yoga of Succot)
Kosher Sutra: ‘He showed his love to the peoples’ (Deut 33:3)
There is a poignancy to this week and it is a time for anticipating new beginnings. Nature runs its course and we are coming to the end of various cycles. The leaves are beginning to fall, the annual Torah reading is ending, another Kosher Sutra cycle is complete, and animals would be beginning to think about hibernating if we hadn’t singed the ozone layer and messed up the seasons through prematurely triggering global warming.
“He [God] showed his love to the peoples” explains Moses in his farewell speech (Deut: 33.3). The rabbinic commentators go for an ethnocentric translation of this, explaining that it is talking about the 12 tribes (Onkelos & Rashi), but the Hebrew word ‘Amiym’ suggests a wider scope. ‘Am’ usually refers to the Israelites, but the plural word refers to the other peoples on the earth, e.g. everyone, regardless of race or nationality. God loves you, baby. Hallelujah.
The final yogic teaching of the year is simple: all is one. And incredibly complicated: all is one. We can quote endless sanksrit sources, or Hebrew sources for that matter, but the mind-games will distract us from the work of our hearts – to understand that we are living in a space of Divine love, and that we are all part of one huge spiritual organism. When we can live in this space of deep knowing, we remove our fears, pains and sense of lack. This is an idea that our hearts understand, but our heads often complicate.
The yogic meditation of anjali-mudra takes us into this place. It is performed by pushing both palms together into ‘prayer position’ and lightly pressing your thumbs on the sternum, or heart centre.
This week is the festival of Succot where Jews gather in the temporary structure of the succah, and invite guests in throughout the whole week. We sit in this physical-spiritual space and remind ourselves of the oneness of God and the Universe. We hold four species of plants together (the Lulav/Etrog/Willow/Myrtle) and remind ourselves that we are all one people.
But can we feel it in our hearts?
Here is a simple meditation. Close your eyes and meditate on the word ‘love’. Allow yourself to feel it in every cell of your body. If your heart is beating anxiously, breathe and allow yourself to come back to the meditation focus. If your mind wanders in another direction, bring your mind back to it.
A couple of days ago my friend Peter Himmelman beautifully summed up Reb Aryeh Kaplan’s approach to meditation: “Think of a thing. When you stop thinking of it, think of that thing again. Do it for 15 minutes”.
Back in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, Succot was a time of joint prayer for all peoples of the world, of all religions and nations. We all joined together as one.
Succot really was a time for sharing the love.
V’zot HaBracha. This is the blessing. This is the happy ending and the even happier beginning.
Marcus J Freed is the creator of Bibliyoga, President of the Jewish Yoga Network, and currently lives in Los Angeles.