March 18, 2011
Kosher Sutra: If you’ve got it, flaunt it! (Tsav)
Kosher Sutra: “Place it on the altar” (Vayikra 6:3)
There are plenty of reasons not to be joyful this week: floods in Japan, the earthquake aftermath in New Zealand, uprisings in the Middle East, and Mel Gibson has just released a new film. Today’s LA Jewish Journal had a Facebook spoof on the front cover: ‘Egypt has updated its relationship with Israel: It’s Complicated. (Iran clicked ‘like’).’
One proven source of achieving contented living is when we connect to something greater than ourselves, and rather than focusing on our own thoughts, we turn the spotlight on others. The ancient art of sacrifice was a visceral way to become connected with something greater, and when people brought sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem they had their eyes on something higher than themselves.
Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk (1717-1787) understood sacrifice as the act of eliminating our negative traits. Just as the priest changed his garments during the ritual, he said that we should change the behaviours that cover our true potential. Even if we are stuck in a particular way of thinking or behaving, we ‘place it on the altar’, almost like a sacrifice, and start channelling the energy for a higher purpose. “If a person is easily angered or has other negative traits, one should break them and use them positively”, he wrote*. If we are thinking negative thoughts, we should use our mind for creating positive plans, and if we display self-destructive behaviours, we can use them for the good.
The yoga mat is an altar of sorts, a laboratory for changing behaviour and channelling energy. We use the pranayama breath to drive our movements, travelling back and forth through the choreography of vinyasa sun salutes. There is room for all kinds of negative energy at the start of a practice but if the yoga session is successful then the energy will be transformed. However chaotic the world outside, we aim to reach equanimity and peace. The Bhagavad Gita promised that ‘joy supreme comes to the Yogi whose heart is still, whose passions are peace…who is one with God’ (6:71).
We are all born pure and we all have huge potential, but the challenge is how we focus our energy on the greatest good. The Book of Esther tells of heroes who utilised their natural strengths, as Esther’s beauty led her to a position of influence in the King’s bedroom, while Mordechai’s strategic intelligence helped him save the day. How are you realising your potential today?
There is a yogic moment at the heart of Purim. As the list of Haman’s criminal sons is read, it’s traditional for them all to be said in one breath. Sometimes we need to purge negative feelings or thoughts, and what better way than in a huge exhale. The yoga mat also takes us to the essence of Purim. The only festival which doesn’t mention God but is all about oneness, the celebration which is about connecting to our inner selves and bringing them to the outside (albeit with the help of alcohol and wild costumes).
We all have at least one powerful personality trait and the challenge is to find the best way to express it for the greatest good. There is always a place for it in this world to help it serve a higher purpose. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Use it to find inner peace and the deepest joy imaginable.
Happy Purim, Shabbat Shalom
*p172, Mipeninei Noam Elimelech, trans. Tal Moshe Zwecker.
Marcus J Freed is the yogi-in-residence for JConnectLA & Jewlicious Festivals. The Freed Mansion/Bibliyoga Shala is located in Los Angeles.
APPLYING THE KOSHER SUTRA: Take yourself into a headstand. Even if you can’t do the full posture, just do the opening steps. If that’s too much, try a forward bend, even resting your head on a chair. Or do the version where you’re in Downward Dog with your forearms and head on the floor. To really absorb the Kosher Sutra teaching, allow yourself to stay in the pose for a while and focus on the deeper meditation: Who am I? What’s my passion? How can I best apply my unique talents? Good luck!
HOW TO DO HEADSTAND