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The Rebbe’s Prescription

This is the subject I was assigned for the “Readers Take Over Hevria” project currently underway: The Rebbe’s call for meditation. I read Dr. Rabbi Natan Ophir’s brief paper The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Call for a Scientific Non-Hasidic Meditation, as well as a couple of articles at Chabad.org. I also watched this JEM video. I do not have the scholar’s authority to write on the topic, but learning about it so close to Yud Shevat connected certain ideas that came together for me—or not—in this poem.

Do not define yourself by what you reject.

More specifically,

when I say “Shema Yisrael…”
I am saying “Ein od milvado”
and for a moment
this world is
nothing.

I. The Rebbe’s Initiative

The Rebbe called for kosher meditation,
a pareve, therapeutic meditation 
separate from all forms of idolatry,
separate from all forms of spirituality.

Meditation, in the Rebbe’s prescription, is a means to an end: mental health.

The Alter Rebbe didn’t think we had it in us –
most of us – to meditate in order to reach
spiritual heights, realms of connectivity
otherwise unavailable,
to control the heart without the medium of the mind
and express the full truth of fear, awe, and love for Gd,
but he laid out a plan to get the desired results
and awaken in the masses
our natural born love for Gd
in our hearts
through concentrated effort.

The Rebbe’s iteration is a call
for meditation devoid of religion
for the psychological benefits –
not to attach to holiness,
not for spiritual sphere surfing,

but rather to heal.

To know our heart?

II. Exister, Exist

The Rebbe’s prescription for getting close to Gd: mitzvahs.
Dance in your every step performing mitzvahs.
Balance your mind and your heart with mitzvahs.
Be all in, all there, complete and whole and aware in mitzvahs.
Essentially: if you are capable, you are obligated in mitzvahs.

How else to be capable but to be healthy?
How else to be healthy but to have clarity?
How else to have clarity but to be aware?

It was the 70s. Yogis abound. Jews burning incense.
Lotus, transcendence, nirvana, ohm.

Hungry for the otherworldly
when everything there is
exists in us all
even more so
in the living walls of our heart.

The Rebbe acknowledged the psychological
health benefits of meditation
for the unhealthy and the unbalanced.

Others found Kabbalistic meditation to be a path,
but that was not what the Rebbe of Lubavitch sought.

Good medicine. Healthy people don’t need medicine.

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Oh, but there will always be the child in us
looking for our Parent’s hand
when all along He’s in here with us.
We can get befuddled. Fooled into thinking we need
more than what we already have: mitzvahs.

We just have to open our eyes
even as we close them.

III. Mindful: Eyes Wide Open

A rabbi sits under a wooden sun shelter
on Netanya Beach one summer day
enjoying the warmth and staring out at the sea.

He notices a young boy
skipping out of the surf toward him.
The rabbi can’t help but feel in himself
the boy’s exuberance and joy.
His things are in the sunlight nearby,
bunched together with what looks like
other belongings of a family.
He drops to his knees in the sand,
dries himself off with a towel,
puts on his kippah,
and reaches into a bag.

When he brings his hand out again,
he holds a fat green grape in his fingers.
He holds it up, looks directly at the grape,
says, “Kavanah!” and then recites
the appropriate blessing before
popping it into his mouth.

The rabbi is overwhelmed with awe.
Here is this young boy, maybe 10 years old,
on summer break, enjoying the surf, sand, and sun,
but when he plucks a grape to snack on
he has the presence of mind to declare “Kavanah!”
How many of us can claim to concentrate
on a blessing, never mind through all of davening?
“Kavanah!” he calls out, gathering all of his focus
on the blessing he’s about to say.

I love how the rabbi feels joy
simply observing the joy of another.
He shares automatic empathy
with the boy and it fills him with goodness.
I love how the rabbi watches this simple,
mundane event unfold and notices the significance
of the boy’s actions. He pays attention and extrapolates.
Learning and teaching from the life
of the world happening around him.

This painting inspires me:
The young boy in the sunlight on the sand
with the sea foaming on the shoreline behind him,
water still dripping from his hair, kneeling on a towel
with the grape between his pruned fingers saying “Kavanah!”

Awareness.

It is not
not
meditation.

Open your eyes
even as you close them.

I’ll take that path,
live with potential
of any moment transcendent.

Kavanah!

 

 

 

Slightly altered image from Flickr.