Spiritual Cycles

Avram Mlotek
February 8, 2013
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“B’shem HaShem, elokey Yisrael,
Mi’ymini Michael u’mi’smoli Gavriel,
U’milfanay Uriel u’me’achoray Refael.
V’al roshi Shchinat El.

In the name of God, the God of Israel:
To my right is Michael and to my left is Gabriel.
Before me Uriel and behind me Refael.
And above me: the all encompassing presence of God.”

This classic text is part of the Shema prayers said at night before bedtime.  Rabbi Isaac teaches in the GemaraBrachot 5a, “Anyone who recites the Shema at bedtime, keeps harm away.”  The Shema, the fundamental Jewish prayer, expresses our mission as a people, and this prayer of B’Shem HaShem accompanies it.  When night falls, we acknowledge our humanity before God.  Will we wake?  We recite the Shema, reaffirming a grander mission we are part of, and insodoing, the fear of death’s eternality might not seem as terrifying, as we tap into a vision larger than ourselves.  When we awake, we recite modeh ani, grateful for the opportunity to try again and to breathe once more.

The text of B’Shem HaShem encapsulated the journey of the multidimensional Jew long before our post-modern attempts.  Supported and guided by emissaries of the Divine, each messenger signifies a different spiritual power.  Michael, representing questions and humility.  Micha el – who is like God?  Michael holds our searches and quests throughout life.  In partnership with Michael is Gavriel, for gevura, strength.  This balancing act between searching, asking with self-confidence and the belief that we contain the power to actualize our visions and dreams is what makes Michael and Gavriel the perfect pair.  Refael symbolizing refuah, healing, especially me’achoray, behind us, lest we fall, when we fall.  Refael acknowledges our mistakes in our journeys, but on a deeper level, is there to hold our brokenness and remind us that our brokenness is part of our journey.  As the Kotzker rebbe teaches, there is nothing more whole than a broken heart.  Before us is our light and God’s light which shine brightly: Uriel.  Potential, opportunity, the unknown, the future.  Uriel, God is my light, holding on to our optimism that darkness isn’t endless.  And lest we fall into worshiping angels or idols, the text reminds us of the primary mover: God, God’s shechina still hovering above us, as she did during the first days of creation.

Maybe the text of B’Shem HaShem speaks to the spiritual web we may find ourselves in, being pulled in different directions: asking questions, wanting answers (Michael), believing we have the answers (Gavriel), then making mistakes (Refael), but getting back up and finding a new opportunity, or silver lining (Uriel).  It is the dance from Michael to Gavriel to Refael to Uriel, while beginning and ending with a deep acknowledgement of a force larger than imagination, God.  Maybe this is what it is to be a multidimensional Jew, to engage in these timeless, endless cycles.  The movements will look different for each person; the prayer pushes us to trust the process.

For a recording of Neshama Carlebach singing Rabbi Shlomo Carlbeach’s version of B’Shem HaShem:  Neshama Carlebach singing Rabbi Shlomo Carlbeach’s version of B’Shem HaShem

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Avram Mlotek is a student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and performs regularly with the National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene Center for Performing Arts. His writings have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Forward and The Jewish Week. Avram was recently named in The Jewish Week's "36 Under 36" as a leading innovator in Jewish life today. He lives on the Upper West Side with his wife and daughter.

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