One Soul, Many Hearts

 

     There is a tradition in Jewish mysticism that Adam and Eve, the first two humans, shared a single soul. That soul would be the only one there would ever be. Adam and Eve were to be immortal, and remain the only two people on Earth. They were never to leave the Garden of Eden.

As we all know, that is not how it worked out. They were expelled from Eden, but not because they ate the forbidden fruit. Rather, it was because how they treated each other when God confronted them with what they had done. Adam blames Eve for tempting him. Eve blames the serpent. They two of them turn on each other, and refuse to take any responsibility for their actions.

This hostility leads to a shattering of their unified soul into many souls, and a loss of their immortality. Each piece of that shattered soul becomes part of the soul of each person to be born.

This is not just a story of loss, nor is it one of despair. If we look at it correctly we can see it as a challenge for us. The purpose of humanity is to reunite those broken aspects of the original soul.

I am discussing this now, and not in the fall when we read the book of Genesis, because a key to understanding this story is Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah, which we will soon celebrate.

God did not give the Torah to the Jewish people. God turned a group of formers slaves of all ethnicities and languages and cultures into the Jewish people. Some of the freed slaves were likely descendants of the original Children of Jacob/Israel who entered Egypt hundreds of years before, but many were slaves from other countries who found the story of the God of Jacob, a God concerned about all of humanity, so compelling.

God took these broken souls, and brought them healing and wholeness through the Torah. It is important to note that this does not mean one mind, or one heart. When the Torah say to love God with all your heart, the word is in the singular. Each person has to find their own way.

A single soul means that we are all deeply connected to each other in an emotional way, and that we take responsibility for our actions toward others and ourselves.

This is not just about the Jewish people. We are to be a model for all people to show that God wants all the descendants of Adam and Eve to feel connected to each other, to realize that all human beings share a single soul. What hurts someone else hurts us even when we do not feel it at the moment. What brings joy to others nourishes our soul when we allow ourselves to feel it.

In these coming weeks before Shavuot let us each find one way to reunite our soul with another.  It can be as simple as a kind gesture to a stranger, or as difficult as reconciling with someone who hurt us. Together we can make another Eden.

Good people, tragic lives

     I have no idea why bad things happen to good people. I also have no idea why good things happen to bad people. I just know that they do. I do not believe that these events are tests from God. I do not believe that the purpose of suffering is to make us better people. I do believe, though, that our task in this world is to alleviate suffering as much as possible, and to create a world of fairness, justice and compassion. I believe God is with us in these pursuits, even when it is hard to feel God’s presence at the moment.

Some problems in the world are entirely human made. We fight wars because of greed or fear of those who are different from us. We lack compassion and sensitivity for those in difficult financial, physical and mental situations. We pollute the air, water, and ground (I am not going to get into the specifics of the actual ecological issues, but I think it is fair to say that we could treat the earth more kindly). Even our food chain is often compromised. The list of human misery is endless, but we could fix them if we approached that list with compassion and resolve. We might be angry at God for not intervening, but the cause of these problems are clearly human.

Some tragedies are caused by nature. The number of natural disasters that lead to a loss of life and great displacement of people from their homes is staggering, though fast becoming numbing. There is not much that can be done to prevent them, though scientists are becoming better at predicting occurrences. Again, one could be angry at God, but most of us understand that world was created with certain basic laws of physics, and there is going to be a shift in tectonic plates, and other natural events which really are nothing personal. Anyone living in that region at that time would be affected.

Illness, though, is the hardest thing to reconcile. It feels personal, even if there is a scientific basis. Serious illness feels unfair; and it is. I do not believe that God sends illness because of sin. Otherwise there would be illness sent to child beaters, spouse abusers, and drug dealers.

I do not believe that God sends illness as a test of our faith. That would be cruelty, not religion.

What I do believe from the depths of my heart is that our role as human beings is to be there for those who need us. There are no magic words we can say to make things all better, but our thoughts, and prayers, and love can be a source of courage and strength to those who need it.

I am always so moved by the depths of love and compassion that emerge when we hear of people going through hard times. We could change the entire world if we could maintain those feelings all the time, and share them with others.

When we go through a difficult time it feels like we are the only ones doing so. We need to keep in mind, though, that every minute of every day, someone is suffering. We may not be able to solve all the problems, or fix the entire world, but we can each make a part of it better. For me, then, the real question is not why do bad things happen, but what are we going to do about it?

 

A Good Ending to Every Day

 

 

Have you ever had this happen to you? You are finally in bed after a really long day. You are exhausted. Sleep is but seconds away. Then suddenly, you are wide awake, your heart beating faster than it did all day. It is not quite an anxiety attack, but it is not far. What triggered it? It was probably the first time you had all day to think about how aggravated you were by something, or how frustrated you were that you did not finish what you wanted to. Maybe you were thinking about that person who cut you off in traffic, or only drove 25 mph on the freeway.

You feel like you have two choices either toss and turn for a couple of hours, or get up and watch TV. Either way, you are not going to get the rest you need that night, which means tomorrow is not looking good. You are already thinking of the excuses you are going to make for being in such a lousy mood.

This happens to a lot of people in our very hectic and tense society. I would like to share a teaching with you that will help you sleep better and have a more optimistic approach to life. (I imagine some of you are thinking that it is kind of funny for a rabbi to give suggestions about sleeping. I really do not mind if people sleep during my sermons. I am just happy they are there.)

What helps me settle down at the end of the day, and lets me sleep is a prayer called the bedtime Shema. It consists of the the first six words and then the first paragraph of the Shema. I want to focus, though, on the first part of the prayer, which goes as follows:

 

Master of the universe, I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me,whether they did so accidentally, willfully, carelessly, or purposely; whether through speech, deed, thought, or notion.I forgive every one. May no one be punished because of me. May it will be Your will, O God, my God and the God of my forefathers, that I strive to do the right things with my day. May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You.

 

You would then say the following blessing, and the Shema.

 

Blessed are You, our God, who brings slumber and drowsiness to my eyes. May it be Your will, my God and the God of my ancestors, that You lay me down to sleep in peace and let me wake in peace. May my ideas, bad dreams, and bad notions not confound me. Blessed are You, Who illuminates the entire world..

 

Different prayer books have various versions of this, but they all have the same idea. When we lie down, we should concentrate on thoughts of forgiveness, both of others and ourselves. This does not mean that we have to like everything that happened to us, but we should realize that the day is already in the past, and that there is nothing we can do. Instead, we should focus on what we can do to have a better day tomorrow. You do not have to use the words of the prayer book, though it is worth at least taking a look. You can, of course, make up your own prayers.

I do not guarantee that you will never have a bad night. This is, though, an important part of a daily practice that will make you feel more compassionate and generous with your thoughts about the world.

 

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