A Divine Wink

March 1, 2012
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“When we learn, we must rest every hour so that we may cleave to God, whose name is blessed. During the learning, we cannot cleave to God, whose name is blessed. Nonetheless, we need to learn; and the Torah refines the heart, and it is “the tree of life for those who cling to her,” and if we don’t learn we will be distanced from God’s cleaving… and we can’t cleave while asleep or when our consciousness (mochin) lapses… In any event, individuals should sit themselves down every hour for a moment to cleave to the Creator, blessed be God.” (Sefer Ba’al Shem Tov on Parshat Va’et’chanan, translated and adapted by Mimi Feigelson)

This teaching of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement, brings back several moments of learning and teaching in my own life. Many years ago, a student who was not living a life of mitzvah observance came to share his heart with me. At one point I asked him, “When was the last time you prayed?” When he answered, “I don’t have tefillin…” I responded: “Buying tefillin is easy, but I didn’t ask you if you laid tefillin this morning. I asked you: When was the last time you spoke to God?”

Another memory is of the glare and then silence I received when I asked a class of high school girls when they last looked at themselves in a mirror. They glared because of the “stupidity” of my question. How could I have imagined that they would have left the house in the morning without looking at themselves multiple times in the mirror? And their silence was a reaction to my comment that “this morning” was not a true answer. I wanted them to understand that what they did in the morning was look into the mirror to see what they look like when other people look at them. Not even for a moment did they look at themselves in the mirror that morning. They saw only what other people see; they never saw themselves.
We have a habit of hiding behind words and actions. We perceive that these words and actions define us. We rarely ask ourselves what we really believe, what truly constitutes our faith, what is the meaning of the action or commitment that we just fulfilled. I believe that it is possible to observe the Shabbat, garmented in all the mitzvot (commandments) and kavannot (mystical intentions), and still not have truly sanctified Shabbat — not even for one moment.

The Ba’al Shem Tov is asking us to stop — to simply stop and to ask: When was the last time I actually brought God into the conversation? When was the last time that my mind stopped being “busy” so it could actually be an observer? The Ba’al Shem Tov is suggesting that in the same way that we have Shabbat in time, we also have a concept of Shabbat in consciousness. Those moments of a “Shabbat consciousness” happen when we pause in our quest to acquire knowledge, when we let go of holding onto information, and when we allow God to become manifest.

The Ba’al Shem Tov is challenging us not only to perform holy actions but to be holy people. He is challenging us to peek behind the curtain of the Torah and to see the true wizard waiting to be revealed. He is offering us a way to not get lost in the vast wilderness of words and even wisdom. He asks us to sit — again and again, to sit, to invite God into our lives. It is inevitable that as creatures we live in the physical world, that we have business — busy-ness —much of the day. But how might we refrain from losing sight of the vision of our partnership with our Creator? How might we manage to not get lost in the process of observing a mitzvah?

All it takes is faith and the wink of an eye to bring God into our lives. I know that this is the hardest thing that I can ask of you. It is anything but simple. Allowing ourselves to believe may be the most demanding thing we will ever ask of ourselves.

Our rabbis teach that the eyes are the windows of the soul. I imagine that gesture, the “wink” at God, as a “winkdow,” an invitation for God to be an active member of our “home team”; a statement that no matter what busy-ness obscures our vision, “We can’t live without You, and we’ll continuously make moments for You!”

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Reb Mimi Feigelson (Miriam Sara) is an Israeli Orthodox rabbi, an international teacher of Hasidut and spirituality, and a storyteller. She is the mashpi’ah ruchanit (spiritual mentor) and lecturer of rabbinic studies and Hasidic thought at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles (www.zieglerpodcasts.com). In 2010, Reb Mimi was recognized by the Forward as one of the 50 most influential female rabbis, and in 2011, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California accepted her as an independent Orthodox rabbi. Feigelson is pursuing a doctorate at HUC-JIR, titled: “On the Cusp of Life: From Scared to Sacred,” which will explore and redefine Jewish funerals and cemeteries.

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