The New Moon has come.
It’s a powerful time.
We made it through Pesach, despite our apprehension over doing it differently than ever before, and the spring is well and truly here. We’re staring down our calendars, wondering what happens next. With the summer yawning ahead, will our plans manifest, or are we going to be in the same place as we are now – sitting at home, reading this email, mourning our losses and praying for a better world?
It’s Rosh Chodesh Iyar
This New Moon, Rosh Chodesh, brings in the month of Iyar, a potent month on the Jewish calendar considered to be the month of healing. The word stands for the acronym “Ani Hashem Rofecha” “I am God your healer”. Iyar is the month of Ziv – radiance. It is the only month where we are commanded every day with the mitzvah of counting the Omer and have a full month of it (Nisan only gets a week or so, as does Sivan). So it’s a time where we have all kinds of spiritual energetic juice, ready to be harnessed for us to cook up magic.
The thing is, some of us just aren’t in the mood.
Life in Quarantine
This week’s double Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora, in that amazing way that Jewish time tends to line up, discusses the quarantine practices of the ancient Israelites. The disease of Tzara’at (not leprosy, sorry to Biblical translators) impacted people’s skin; homes and clothing, and required strict isolation from the rest of the camp before returning to be purified through immersion and a priestly ritual. I remember as a child imagining the sad Metzorah (not-leper) on their own outside the camp and wondering what they’d do for those lonely seven days.
Now, it’s not such a hard thing to imagine. Without Netflix, I’d hope it was a good time for spiritual introspection, meditation and internal processing. But as we’ve all learned these last few weeks, we’re not all necessarily in the headspace to do proper introspection when we’re alone and dealing with the challenges of day-to-day life. For the Metzorah, it might have been staying protected outside of the camp’s boundaries in the wilderness. For us, it’s staying on top of work, homeschooling, health and family; all while staying calm amid uncertainty, financial challenges, and mourning loss.
There is work to do, though
I’ve seen a lot of compassionate Facebook advice, that it’s okay not to get a ton done during this time. That even making it through the day with parenting and working and surviving is enough. That some people are learning to play the piano or writing a novel or doing long puzzles, and some are just showering every day and eating three meals, and that’s good enough too.
And that is so absolutely spot-on.
But it doesn’t mean transformation isn’t taking place.
For some of us, the spiritual process we are going through is learning how to be present with our families. For some of us, the growth is in working on our relationships at home. For others, it’s about finding a new balance with work and family. And for some of us, it’s just getting out of bed every morning and brushing our teeth. They are all part of the unique spiritual task we have been given right now to grow despite – and through – this crisis, into becoming the people – and the world – that we have the potential to become.
Because, that IS the work.
We are in a time of Sefirat Haomer. Every day throughout this seven week period, we are assigned a different combination of Sefirot; the seven building-blocks of the universe according to the Kabbalah. In the first week, we focused on Chesed, and the need to be open, giving and generous. Last week, Gevurah taught us to be defined with our boundaries, disciplined with our daily rituals, and build personal power. And this week, we move into Tiferet, the balanced fusion of the two which results in compassion. Each day focuses on another combination of the primary Sefirah with the other Sefirot, giving us the opportunity to work on another small area of our lives – it may seem insignificant, but together, they make up the 49 pieces that give us the entire picture.
When the children of Israel left Egypt, they had descended to the lowest rung of Tumah – or trauma; that had resulted from years of slavery and oppression. One more moment of exile and they would never have been capable of leaving. It was the instant that they left Egypt that they began their ascent, from the 49th level of Trauma upward to be capable of receiving Divine revelation on Mount Sinai.
The 49 Gates of Binah
The Kabbalah teaches us that there are 50 gates of Binah, an attribute of Divine wisdom that connects us to perceiving God. The root of all sickness, we are told by our Mystic teachers, is a lack of reaching that final point of connection, that 50th gate. The numerical value of ‘cholah’, illness, is 49. On our spiritual journey, we crave connection to Divine, to our infinite source. We feel the ennui of human life, where we know we all come from a Oneness, yet feel the separation of existence; and all we want is to connect back to one another, and to God, again. Yet we can never quite fulfil that desire, we find ourselves missing that final level, that fiftieth gate that will get us to the ultimate in connection. And like the Song of Songs, we become ‘sick with love’, inflamed with a desire that can never be quenched.
The Definition of Illness
These ideas, brought forth by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in an in-depth Chassidic discourse of 1961, brings forth a variety of definitions of sickness, in order to highlight the difference between prevention of illness overall; and healing from an illness. Quoting two Biblical passages – one which describes God’s promise to never infect the Israelites with the illnesses of Egypt; and the other to heal them from the terrible sicknesses prior to their entry into the Promised Land – showcases a difference.
Healing is about reconnecting to Source; getting in touch with the deepest place of human desire that wants nothing more than to connect; to the Divine Source that is above and beyond all manifestation. It is a level of consciousness that aligns with the Sefirah of Malchut; a place of emptiness that warrants the highest level of yearning; because of the space it holds within darkness, rather than light. This vessel for yearning shows us what we really crave, where we really want to go. Rather than preventing illness itself, which can come from other levels of Divine manifestation that are easily accessed and more readily apparent; it is the illness that drives forth the need to dig deep; to elicit the ultimate in healing energy from the Source of all Sources itself, the “Beginning that is Not Known”, connecting us at our root to the Creator.
Healing in the time of Corona
Living as we are in a space where we feel yearning, where we desire connection to that which we are missing, we are being fed the deepest medicine on this healing journey of the human race.
We have been shown what it feels like to be without connection, to other humans. We have been shown what it looks like to be without the ease and comfort of socially-mandated connection; through community prayer and ritual. We are seeing pain and destruction, and feel alienated from connection with the Divine.
Yet overall, with all of this darkness raging around us; our souls seek out the connection; desperate for the thirst to be quenched. In our moment of aloneness; of pain and fear and upheaval; of sickness and plague; we have found our deepest thirst, and know that all we can do is strive to connect to our source.
This moment of healing is powerful, stronger than if we hadn’t gotten sick in the first place. We’re not endorsing the sickness happening, of course – but now that it is here, we understand, that the Divine will has presented us with a chance to heal; not only our physical maladies but our spiritual ones.
Thirsting for Connection
We are being presented with a chance to heal, to move beyond a society where we ignore the Divine that walks among us; the people we fail to honor and respect who are made in God’s image. To live in a world where we can connect to others in compassion and dignity, honoring the Divine in them; and connecting to our ultimate source at the same time. When we can pray by reaching into our deepest selves, whether or not we can do so in community. And when we can maintain our relationships and our friendships, even when our deepest triggers and traumas show up, because we are here to connect, to unite, to quench the lovesickness we all suffer from when we are not in sync with our ultimate selves.
An Opportunity to Heal
We have been presented with a moment that is an opportunity, painful and challenging as it is. It is an opportunity to reach into the level of Malchut; of darkness that desires to unite with the light, and dig deep to reach that point of connection. To find ways to go about our days with more consciousness of how we connect; whether it’s to our families; our housemates; our distance coworkers; or the people we smile at behind our masks when we go to the grocery store or pharmacy. To move forward in the social action needed to treat every human with dignity, including those who put their lives on the line for us as essential workers. To recognize that we are all accountable for one another, because we all come from the same Source, and respect the protocols that will care for our most vulnerable. To create the world of Messianic consciousness that comes from seeing the Divine everywhere, a space where “the world is filled with the knowledge of God, as water covers the sea”.
The opportunity to heal is here. Not just our physical bodies, but the malady of disconnection in our society. The healing of coming together, of caring for one another, and growing together as a society is being gifted to us in this Iyar moment.
It’s up to us to take it on, and do what we can to reach that level of Oneness.
To heal each other and heal the world.
Thank you for being you. Thank you for reading this. I pray for good news, healing for all, protection for the most vulnerable, strength to those on the front lines, and the ability to retain connection and community even amid the separation.
With blessing and love,
a happy, joyous, healthful and serene Shabbat
of peace and integration