The Spirituality of Abundance

Rabbi Leah Novick

The Spirituality of Abundance

By Leah Novick

While the current atmosphere of abundance, in the West, may not encourage mass movements of social protest (though the turnout at WTO in Seatlle may suggest a change in mazal) the environmental crisis before us now involves the very life of the planet.

While the creator renews that life each day (u'mchadesh khol yom et pnai ha adamah) the im-balance created by the assaults on the health of the earth place it in an imperiled position — like a sick human being facing life and death.

This challenge is world-wide and not limited to the developed countries, who nevertheless will have to take the lead role in checking the process which our corporations set in motion.

Ironically, it is those of us living in abundance — including a large percentage of the Jewish community — who may be most educable as to what we have to lose in an environmentally degraded planet.

In decades past, the wealthy could escape urban poverty and congestion; using their affluence to carve out a lifestyle that separated their children from the harsher life style of the inner city.

Like the Gautama Buddha, the children of affluence in this country went looking for knowledge of the life their parents had escaped from (and their grandparents had endured) In the sixties and seventies that process was manifested in the large number of young Jews, from upper middle class families, in the peace, civil rights and womens movements.

The question for beyond the new century is whether the prophetic passion that has always surfaced in our community, can now flow into a an effective and spiritual movement on behalf of the earth.

It has become commonplace to lament the narcissism of the Yuppie generation whose interests might be defined as "predominantly personal". If we look closer, and with a kinder eye, we might consider re-defining the trends as demonstrating a positive orientation towards good health, exercise, natural foods, and benevolent child-rearing.

In short, this emphasis on self-improvement; and its focus on personal actualization may end up being the life-experience that sends the next generation towards the creation of a more spiritualized politics.

Indeed, a small but growing body of society has already opted for healthy food without chemicals and pesticides, Many of the individuals now cutting down on meat and additives, arrived at their decisions, not for noble philosophical goals, but through the experience of personal or family illness and breakdown.

As the media help to circulate health information much faster, and the Internet accelerates the process even more, health and nutrition awareness could lead to greater willingness to participate in recycling and other environmentally constructive efforts. In Israel, for example, school children are being given needed environmental education and information about the dangers of smoking.

In my observation, from teaching at various holistic health centers, the next step from the body and the emotions is into the psyche and the collective consciousness. In the new century, and with new Jewish realities, Tikkun Olam will be about coming into alignment with the Divine Presence so that all places on earth can be imbued with sacredness.

Our tradition teaches that the Shekhinah is present in everything; including the rocks (domeh) the plants (tsomeach) the animals (chayah) and the humans (m'dabeyr). It is our greatest loss when we fail to recognize the divine presence all around us and separate ourselves from each other and the creation; for that is the core of our ability to destroy.

The Talmud teaches us that the Divine Presence is alienated by pollution,violence, incest and rape. Tikkun Olam is being in such harmony with the Shekhinah that we could no longer engage in those actions that alienate divinity. It is about building an internal ethic that works agains pollution,over-consumption and harming others. It is an awareness that builds consciously and is devoted to conserving water and electricity. It involves individuals who think before using, whether it's air-conditioning, paper or plastic; who seek alternatives to the automobile and other conveniences we take for granted.

. In the U.S. many of our synagogues continue to ignore re-cycling possibilities and utilize convenience products that contribute to environmental damage. And we serve foods that scarcely fit the healthy category. For example, during Pesach in beautiful temples and homes, many Jews bless cheap, overly sweet, mass produced wine at their Passover Seders.

Is it lack of funds that keeps us( and most synagogues) from providing organic grape juice or excellent kosher wine? Or is it the belief that the familiar bottle represents "tradition"?

While white flour Challah may fit that category, the popular wine bears little resemblance to kosher wine in France, Israel,South America or Northern California! (Consider who you support with your Passover wine purchasing. Will it be a creative Jewish vintner in Napa or Gamla; who presses the grapes with love or the conveyor belt for a corporation indicted for price-fixing Passover goods?)

Our tradition teaches us that at the beginning of earthly time, the Shekhinah dwelled here with us and imbued everything. With the amassing of social evils, she began to take refuge in the Seven Heavens, descending more occasionally to be with us for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh and Chagim, when our practice brings us into the alignment that enables us to experience her presence.

Can we hope to develop such an awareness, short of the Messianic era or through the challenge of massive breakdowns that force us to cut back? Could we embody an era in which each of us constructs the inner "mishkan" that enables the divine to live within us and among us?

This Torah concept (taasu lee mishkan v'shachantee b 'tocham) has really become the mantra of all the popular holistic teachers. All the health gurus have been preaching the gospel of restoring the body as the spiritual temple through the inner work: the daily practice of meditation, prayer, conscious eating, excercise and good works.

The fact is that our message, of internal divinity, has been spreading, though not necessarily through our own instititutions. Post-holocaust Judaism is still in the struggle to acknowlege and nurture the inner life. For so long as we were victimized by historical circumstances, it was logical that our prophetic Tikkun Olam work had to be focused on the amelioration of discrimination, suffering, poverty, and persecution. And there is still a lot to be done in that regard — for our own group and for others in distress.

Because we have become more integrated in American society, and because women have more of a voice in Judaism, we now have a larger pool of self-aware Jews with amazing talents and resources. The recognition of women in Jewish spiritual life has brought us exquisite and creative liturgical work and a new generation of vibrant leaders and teachers. The resilience of Jewish life is reflected in the rapidity with which women on the Bimah have been accepted.

At the same time, the changes that have taken place tend to produce an atmosphere of complacency. As a result, the tendency to slide back to the past in liturgical practice and other areas is often unchallenged. The older generation of activists, who fought for inclusion, may continue to be called upon (to call for more lasting changes) since they remember what it took to open the gates.

For example, the new historical research and rituals that empower Jewish women's lives (Rosh Chodesh, rituals around birthing, women of wisdom ceremonies etc) tend to be supported by women's groups and activities,almost guaranteeing low-budget and limited exposure for the new work.

That reality makes it even more important that feminist and renewal teachers are supported to publish and distribute their work to the widest possible audiences through c-ds, literature, film and video and of course the internet.

The plethora of new materials, which could indeed transform the lives of Jewish men and women, are often produced by struggling independent artists and teachers who do not have access to the deeper pockets of major Jewish philanthropies.

While the challenges persist, our capacity to change (dramatically enacted around gender issues over last twenty five years) should encourage us to go even further in our efforts to transform ourselves and others. Some years ago, in Jerusalem, with the "Women of the Wall" for Rosh Chodes Kislev, I had just gone throught the shattering experience of having the Israeli militia and Jerusalem police prevent us from entering the square approaching the Western Wall, where we hoped to pray.

After Shachrit in one of the archaelogical gardens, we headed down the hill carrying the Torah, which had become a source of confrontation with the Rabbanut. As we approached the Gate-way a group of older Australian Jewish tourists came pouring out of two tour buses. Seeing us coming,they ran up-hill as fast as they could to kiss the Torah!

That scene remains my inner solace for dealing with the pain of division that remains ahead of us, through joy in the Jews who see only the holiness of a Torah.

To lift our sparks to the next level will requre major work on forgiveness; especially "mechilah" between the sexes, the alignments and the generations. This year, right before Yom Kippur, the great Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Han came to the San Francisco Bay area, with his monks and nuns,to share their work on forgiveness. It seemed miraculous that those who suffered most from the Vietnam War should now be coming to us-the perpetrators — with this message.

I believe that the gift from the Vietnamese and the Tibetans to us, in particular, is to help us get past our suffering and victimization so can get on with the deper work we are being called to. We have the mechanism, within the Yom Kippur liturgy for doing that work at a truly profound level and sharing it widely.

While everything we have learned from the Dalai Lama or any other great spiritual teacher can be found in our tradition; the truth is that we on our own were not "getting it." We had forgotten how important it is to sit in the presence of an enlightened being — like our great Chasidic masters. In such company we are reminded of our own divinity so profoundly that it is inescapable.

While other traditions admire and benefit from our well developed "g'milat chesed" and "talmud torah" we should not be averse to seeing those areas in our communal life that could benefit from an infusion of thinking from friendly spiritual sources.

In that contact, we are reminded that forgiveness heals the soul and enables us to express unconditional love, which is the best way to emulate God.The transformation that lies ahead of us calls for this shift into a mind-state that is based on gratitude,forgiveness,love and serenity. It is nothing less than the return of the Shekhinah to the earth, for which our great Masters all davenned.

Rabbi Novick is a Pathfinder of ALEPH who teaches and meditates in California and is building the retreat community of Ruach Ha'Aretz.