The teachings of Kabbalah have long provided wisdom and practical instruction for spiritual development. In a previous post (A seaside morning meditation (Kabbalah) we covered Kabbalah meditation practices.
For your enjoyment and thought provoking opportunity, here are some Kabbalah traditional stories. These highlight its practice and display the ethical/spiritual side of the teachings.
THE DANCING EGG
Once, the family of Mr. Time and Mrs. Space gave birth to boy triplets. The one who was born first was called Yesterday. The next one born was called Today. And the last one born was called Tomorrow.
One day, many years later, they were walking in the forest together, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, and they were having a discussion about the nature of existence: where did they come from, why were they here, where were they going, and so on . . .
Suddenly, a bird flew from a tree and landed near them. To their amazement, she began to speak: “For the one among you who can answer this riddle, I will transform myself into a beautiful princess and live with him forever.”
The riddle was: “How can an egg dance without breaking?”
Yesterday said, “I’ve seen worlds and time but I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Tomorrow said, “I have no experience with such nonsense and I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Today said, “I think I have an idea. There’s one way an egg can dance without breaking and that’s by being a mime.”
So the bird transformed herself into a beautiful princess.
And then, she did something even more surprising. She reached into her pocket and took out an invisible egg. With a flourish, she cracked the egg into an invisible pan and proceeded to cook it over the invisible fire that she had prepared for the purpose.
When the egg was done, she offered some to Yesterday and Tomorrow. Then she took half of the cracked shell, transformed it into a crown, and placed it on Today’s head, making him a prince. She placed the other half on her own head. Today smiled. They kissed a tender kiss.
And the clever princess took hold of Today’s hand and away they danced — stopping now and then to pirouette, hand-in-hand together.
A FISH STORY
Once, there was a fish who lived in the great ocean, and because the water was transparent, and always conveniently out of the way of his nose when he moved along, he didn’t know he was in the ocean.
Well, one day the fish did a very dangerous thing for a fish. He began to think: “Surely I am a most remarkable being, since I can move around like this in the middle of empty space.”
Then the fish became confused because of thinking about moving and swimming and he suddenly had an anxiety paroxysm, and thought that he had forgotten how. At that moment he looked down and saw the yawning chasm of the ocean depths, and he was terrified that he would drop.
Then he thought: “If I could catch hold of my tail in my mouth, I could hold myself up.” And so he curled himself up and snapped at his tail. Unfortunately, his spine wasn’t quite supple enough, so he missed.
As he went on trying to catch hold of his tail, the yawning black abyss below became ever more terrible, and he was brought to the edge of a total nervous breakdown.
The fish was about to give up, when the ocean, which had been watching with mixed feelings of pity and amusement, said, “What are you doing?”
“Oh,” said the fish, “I’m terrified of falling into the deep dark abyss, and I’m trying to catch hold of my tail in my mouth to hold myself up.” So the ocean said, “Well, you’ve been trying that for a long time now, and you still haven’t fallen down. How come?”
“Oh, of course, I haven’t fallen down yet,” said the fish, “Because, because — I’m swimming!”
“Well,” came the reply, “I am the Great Ocean, in which you live and move and are able to be a fish, and I have given all of myself to you in which to swim, and I support you all the time you swim. But here you, instead of exploring the length, breadth, depth, and height of my expanse, are wasting your time pursuing your own end.”
From then on, the fish put his own end behind him (where it belonged) and set out to explore the Great Ocean.
As a child, I was fascinated with the horizon. I clearly remember my first encounter with this mysterious moving edge.
One day after school I found myself walking unconsciously in an unfamiliar direction. Suddenly I realized that I had gone far away into the fields. Looking to the horizon, with those majestic mountains of my birth place calling like a flute, I told myself: I should be home now, dinner will be waiting, my family is going to worry about me.
But under those blue skies the landscape captivated me entirely. I stood immobilized by awe. The thought formed: I want to go to the horizon, I want to live on the edge of the world, I want to be where the horizon is.
And my legs walked and walked and walked. The only focal point ahead of me was a single tree on the horizon line. One majestic tree. My fascination increased.
As I walked I decided: I’m going to meet this tree, it must be the tree of life itself. I had learned about the tree of life in school and now I was headed straight towards it. I could think no other thoughts. I could see only the tree.
The afternoon sun warmed me and I was not tired of walking. I just wanted to meet the horizon and rest under the tree. With the whole heart of a determined child I wanted to sit under that tree.
And then, I was looking up through its outstretched branches.
In the haze of my fatigue I concluded that this must be the edge of the world, surely. I had reached my destination. I sat down under the tree and read. And I understood, or pretended to understand, what I read.
Before I knew it the sun was going down and I had to get back home. I stood up and looked beyond the tree, and there, amazingly, was another horizon. I made a few attempts to walk toward it. I turned right, left, and found the horizon on all sides calling me, embracing me.
As one sage said, “I wandered in pursuit of my own self. I was the traveler and I am the destination.” In all of my travels since then I have walked toward that horizon and that tree.
Once upon a time, after a great cataclysm that almost obliterated life on this planet, a small group of peasants, who were very old, were the only survivors of the global disaster. They were struggling to survive by farming the blighted earth. But the earth was so damaged that their efforts to cultivate a few food crops were in vain.
Finally, in desperation, one aged man, wiser and more courageous than the rest, proposed to go out into the world in search of food. The other villagers were too frightened, discouraged, and weakened by illness and hunger to accompany him, so he decided to set out alone.
He found a path into the large dark forest that stood on the edge of the village fields. As he entered the forest’s shadowy depths, he began to feel uneasy, and with good cause. No sooner had he reached a point where he could no longer see the village fields behind him, than a host of strange and fearsome creatures began to attack him. An upright writhing serpent crept up behind him, a hairy crawling beast without a name threatened his ankles, a sharp talons flying thing with great flapping wings descended from the sky upon him.
Despite his terror and infirmities, for he was very old, the man fended off the terrifying apparitions as best he could, know he had to continue on his quest for food.
Suddenly he heard a sound like none he had ever heard before a haunting wail of utter misery, the thin and pitiful cry of an abandoned child. He could not possibly ignore it. He stepped off the path and made his way through the trees and underbrush, following the needy cry as if entranced
Pushing aside a leafy branch, he stepped into a small clearing. He saw before him the ruins of an ancient temple, its stone walls covered with moss, its cracked columns grown round with vines. The cries seemed to come from within the temple, so he mounted the worn stone steps and entered through a low, arched doorway.
Once his eyes had adjusted to the dim light inside, he saw a small figure huddled in front of a simple altar. It was moaning softly, rocking back and forth, its head bent upon its knees and half hidden by its encircling arms. He crossed the uneven marble floor and knelt in front of the strange little being. Reaching out a weathered hand, he lifted its head so that he could look at its face.
But what was this? The being had no face; its head was featureless, a smooth white oval, without eye or mouth or nose or ear, as blank and seamless as an egg.
He drew back, horrified, staring at this human form that looked sightlessly towards him for a moment and then quickly covered its terrible blank face with its hands, as if anguished by the revelation of its deformity.
The old man remained motionless, battling his impulse to flee from this travesty of humankind. Frightened and bewildered as he was, he sensed that the creature was suffering almost beyond belief. Tears came to his eyes and he felt his heart expand. Instinctively he reached out to the poor miserable creature and embraced it. It collapsed against him, its shoulders shaking with sobs.
Steeling himself against the horror of that blank visage, he cradled its head gently in his hands and turned it up towards him. Gazing intently at its eyeless face, as if to will a response into existence, he caressed the featureless oval. Its skin was soft and flawless, like that of a baby.
He felt an odd sensation growing in his hands. They were warm, so warm that they tingled. They seemed to move without his willing them to do so. Quickly they began to mold the little creature’s smooth resilient flesh, making an indentation for eyes, shaping a nose, a mouth, ears. His hands moved now more rapidly and deftly until a fully human face, which seemed to have been waiting for a touch such as his to take form, looked back at him.
For a long moment, he and the newborn person gazed into each other’s eyes. And then the person, whose fresh and perfect features reminded him of everyone who had ever been dear to him in the past and who might become so in the future, smiled. With this benevolent and grateful smile, which the old man matched with a joyous smile of his own, the two joined hands and walked out together into the waiting world.
The Great Puzzle
Remember, that every movement breathes. Move silently between the thought and the movement. Pierce the space and stillness with the gentle movements of your body. Think horizontal. Think vertical. Integrate both with one conscious movement. The breath, movement and consciousness is the power and miracle of being and moving. As you move inside the silence of yourself, gently touch and be touched.
The Oath That Could Not be Fulfilled
“The deceased, despite their intentions and promises, are unable to reveal to the living their experience in death.”
Rabbenu Jehiel, the father of Rabbenu Asher, had a friend in his city who, like him, was exceedingly devout. The two very dear friends were both elderly men of deeds who exemplified high levels of both learning and piety. They took a mutual oath that the first to die would appear in his friends dream to tell him what occurs in death and to reveal the path of the soul after death.
On the day that his friend died, when Rabbenu Jehiel was in the cemetery prior to the burial, he stood and said to those assembled, “Listen my masters, my friend who lies here dead before me and I took an oath together, and so I remind him in your presence, to fulfill his oath.” Then everyone noticed that the deceased’s coffin was shaking somewhat, and they opened his coffin thinking that the dead one may have come to life. But only his eyelashes moved, and it was agreed by all that the blinking of his eyes was a sign that he was unable to disclose anything.
Nevertheless, thirty days later, the deceased Hasid came and appeared to the rabbi, Rabbenu Jehiel, requesting his forgiveness concerning the oath, for he was not permitted to tell him anything.
From Affliction to Rest
“A student who witnesses a scene of affliction is able, through Tikkun Olam, to bring the afflicted to a state of rest.”
One day the sage Rabbi Jacob Abulafia came before my teacher, the Ari. My master spoke first and said to him, “Your honor want to go to Egypt and requests of me that I write a letter for him,” And Abulafia answered, “Yes, it is so my master.” The Ari continued,” May my master go in peace and may the Lord be with you on your journey. Indeed, great benefit will come of your going there because it is a matter of necessity.”
He asked him, “What is the necessity?” that was after all, a journey of his own choosing. The Ari responded, “Upon your safe return you will surely fathom my words.” My master immediately wrote the letter on his behalf and gave it to him, warning him yet again concerning this matter and urging him to proceed quickly with his journey. And so he did.
He set out and journey to Egypt where he was greatly honored out of respect for the Rabbi and for himself. Afterward he set out to return home to Safed, may it be built and established quickly in our days. He left with a caravan. One day the members of the caravan were resting as was their custom, and the sage also rested. And as he got down from the donkey, a deep sleep immediately came over him and he slept for about an hour. When the others got up to go they woke the sage from his sleep. He rose and untied the donkey, and the donkey strayed. And again the wise man was overcome by deep sleep and slept about two hours. Seeing no one when he awoke, he shuddered and shook and began to run about in a state of trembling and great distress.
As evening approached he saw a plower and oxen coming into view. He rejoiced and thought, “I will go with them,” and he ran toward them. On reaching the site, he noticed that the plower was cruelly beating the oxen. A little while later he saw that the plower had turned into an ox and the ox had become a man who placed a burden upon the other and began to beat him harshly. This continued for some time. The sage was terrified. He had no place to flee since he did not know where he might find an inhabited place, and he was exceedingly agitated because he could make no sense of any of this. And he wrote from him all the acts of penance and the ascetic practices that he had to fulfill in order to attain Tikkun for the souls of those men.
And they appeared to the sage in a dream and said to him, “May the Lord bless you. May your mind know rest just as our souls found rest from the very day that you commended to perform the acts of penance that the Rabbi indicated to you. For with the very first acts of penance on your part we were brought out from the difficult labor that you saw and were allowed to enter into Gehenna (Hell). Similarly, with every further act of penance that you performed, we were brought out from a heavier to a lighter yoke until we were brought into our own place (our present place).
The Stench of Pride
“A proud person is more odious than a dead animal”
It happened that a Hasid, walking along the way, met up with Elijah the prophet, and walking together, they came upon an animal carcass that had been thrown out along the path. The carcass gave off such a terrible stench that the Hasid raised his nose to keep from having to smell the animal. Elijah, however, passed close by the carcass without reacting.
Later, they saw a man in the distance coming toward them and walking with a pronounced gait, and though he was still some distance away, Elijah the prophet raised his hand to his nose. When the Hasid asked the prophet why he had not reacted when they passed by the dead animal, Elijah explained that this man, in displaying such pride, gave off a greater stench that did the carcass.
The Relativity of Wealth
“A parable of the relativity of piety”
Two men each have a thousand gold coins. One lives in a village where none of the villagers possess anything approximating that amount of money, and without a doubt, he considers himself superior to his fellow villagers. The other, who resides in a city of many merchants and officials, regards his wealth as amounting to very little, and it is as nothing in his eyes.
Similarly, one who is distant from God and from his Holy beings and devout ones considers himself superior to whoever is of lower level that his. But the pious who are always aware of God’s Presence humble themselves to the ground before Him, for in their reflecting upon the level of God and of His holy beings and His devout ones, they are ever humble in their own eyes.
Devotion to Prayer
“A great sage is praying with such intense devotion that he is unaware of guests who come to his house”
Three great sages once came to the house of our teacher and Rabbi Mordecai Masnut, a man of great learning and wealth and piety, in connection with a matter relating to a mitzvah. Among them was Rabbi Abba Mari. They found Rabbi Masnut sitting upon his knees, his face directed upward with his hands spread out, reciting the blessing after meals. So intense was his devotion that he paid no attention to the learned men who had come to his home. He was even unaware that anyone had entered.
Then, upon completing his prayer and reciting the final blessing over a cup of wine, he stood up and greeted his guests, “May your coming be in peace. Do not regard my oversight as a sin, but forgive me, for I was engaged in a conversation with my Maker.”
Kabbalah quotes …
“Misdirected life force is the activity in disease process. Disease has no energy save what it borrows from the life of the organism. It is by adjusting the life force that healing must be brought about, and it is the sun as transformer and distributor of primal spiritual energy that must be utilized in this process, for life and the sun are so intimately connected.”
“Rhythm is the basis of life, not steady forward progress. The forces of creation, destruction, and preservation have a whirling, dynamic interaction.”
“Every phase of evolution commences by being in a state of unstable force and proceeds through organization to equilibrium. Equilibrium having been achieved, no further development is possible without once more oversetting the A journey of a thousand miles starts in front of your feet. Whosoever acts spoils it. Whosoever keeps loses it.”
“The pure impulse of dynamic creation is formless; and being formless, the creation it gives rise to can assume any and every form.”
“Force never moves in a straight line, but always in a curve vast as the universe, and therefore eventually returns whence it issued forth, but upon a higher arc, for the universe has progressed since it started.”
“I was looking for something. I mean, I’d begun practicing yoga and, you know, I was looking for the answers to life. … I know there’s more to life than making lots of money and being successful and even getting married and having a family.”
Love is the single most necessary ingredient for human happiness, and relationships, and it is the purest expression of the soul making it also a Godly act.
There is selfish, narcissistic, indulgent, self centered love, and selfless, giving, caring, love.
The essence of the soul like a diamond buried in the ground is always a diamond and although the diamond may be covered with grime and is in the need of a good polish, it is nonetheless a brilliant stone.
A gentile once came to Hillel and asked him to teach him the entire Torah / Bible while he stands on one foot. “What you do not want others to do to you, do not do to them and the rest is the commentary of this principle.” Hillel the greatest sage in his time unequivocally stated that the entire Torah is for one goal and that is to teach man how to be nice to one another.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that when a Jew is happy for another Jews successes and is sad over his losses this is dearer to God than the prayers of Rabbi Yishmoel Cohen Godal in the Kodesh Hakodoshim on Yom Kippur. So when you are genuinely happy for your fellows successes and when you are genuinely sad over their losses than you have given God greater joy than Rabbi Yishmoel Cohen Godal (the holiest Jew of his time) when he was praying in the Kodesh Hakodoshim (the holiest place in the world) on Yom Kippur (the holiest day of the year).
Rabbi Aikvah says “Love your friend as you love yourself” is the founding principle of the Torah / Bible.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that it makes sense that a soul will come down to this world and live sixty seventy years in order to do for a fellow a favor; a materiel favor, and certainly a spiritual favor.
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the main mitzvah/commandment of “Love your friend as you love yourself” is to think about things that cause you to love your friends.
Love is a reciprocal feeling. Just as water/mirror will mirror the face that peers into it similarly love is a reflection of hearts.