Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Is Jewish Meditation Something New?

The question came up recently regarding the subject of Jewish meditation. The person asking it had wondered if perhaps the "pop-revival" of Jewish meditation had something to do with following in the ways of the other nations of the world. He presented that apparently Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan had been one of the first to start this revival, but wondered if - excluding him, there was actually any mention of meditation in the Torah literature other than this. Did Jews every practise meditation is years gone by?

Indeed, meditation and Transcendental Meditation are taken quite seriously by many today. Is that the Jewish approach and should we be following it? When various Jewish groups speak about meditation today - have they borrowed what they have seen from the nations of the world and made it their own? Is it acceptable to go in this path? Better yet - is meditation in Judaism something new - going back perhaps to when Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan wrote his various books about it?

It is clear, following in the ways of nations of the world in one's approach to Jewish meditation is completely and strictly forbidden (see accompanying video of the Lubavitcher Rebbe at the bottom of the post.) At all costs, this type of meditation is one not suited for the Jewish soul. For reasons far too lengthy to discuss in a blog post, such meditation should not enter the "4 Amos" of a Jew. The dangers involved in a variety of areas of one's life can be unfixable.

A Jew, however, also has the right to experience the Divine - to "touch infinity", to feel absorbed in the spiritual concept of G-dliness. The Mitzvot are of course the very practical ways in which one can do so. This post again - is not for that purpose. Instead, I wish to briefly highlight that in fact, meditation has been a huge part of Torah Judaism - since the time of Abraham himself. I provide a synopsis of some areas where Jewish meditation is mentioned and leave the post at that. For those to whom the subject is close to them and who wish to pursue it further, please feel welcome to contact me directly. Due to the sensitivity of this topic and the importance to keep to a strictly pure approach - only serious questions or discussions will be addressed.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan was not the first person to write on the subject. His book "Meditation and Kabbalah" clearly shows the traditional, classic sources from where Jewish meditation originates. There was no reason the questioner had to ask his question regarding Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan - when all his books are filled with the original sources showing exactly where everything comes from. In fact, the first known source is brought in the Sefer Yetzira (which was also translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan) said to have been written by Abraham himself. This book shares some of the greatest secrets concerning meditation.

Rabbi Kaplan also wrote the book "Meditation and the Bible" giving the reader the opportunity to see just how frequently meditation occurs in the Tanach. He shares the very roots of where meditation and prophecy occurred - simply by understanding the vocabulary in the various texts. Rabbi Kaplan's other well known book "Jewish Meditation" is surely one of the best that shares again traditional sources with practical advice attached. Here he provides beautiful ways to experience the Divine without resorting to idolatrous ways. Clearly - there is no reference to any of the approaches taken by the nations of the world. A book short in quantity - but huge in quality!

To go back in time, the Arizal - Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534-1572), through his student Rabbi Chaim Vital - revealed the very roots of Jewish meditation in his book Shaar HaKavanot (the gate of meditations). This became the source for Rabbi Shalom Sharabi's Kavanot - still practised by select individuals devoted to the study and practice of the Arizal's teachings today. These are real meditations - powerful to those who follow them. They are implemented at the time of prayer with each prayer having its accompanying meditations. His work Shaar Ruach HaKodesh and Pri Eitz Chaim show the powerful practicality of these meditations - together with the Shaar HaKavanot.

The Zohar - written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai at the time just after the destruction of the Second Temple contains a variety of teachings devoted to meditation. For those who go into its depth, the entire Zohar can turn into a complete meditation when one understands the workings of the Sefirot, the Partzufim and the Olamot. It is known that the Arizal would often meditate on one area of the Zohar for a week in order to plumb to its inner meaning.

Rabbi Abraham Abulafia (13th century) is the most well known of the truest of practical meditators sharing some of the most powerful (and often dangerous!) meditations available. His books were only just recently published in full again and anyone can have access to them. A warning is certainly in order that practising such techniques without a qualified teacher (extremely rare today) can be disastrous! The Kabbalah of Rabbi Abraham Abulafia is for a certain unique type of person. Anything less than total immersion in Torah and a Torah lifestyle 24 hours a day should be enough of a deterrent for attempting putting his techniques into practice.

All Mitzvot (save for charity perhaps - because of its immediacy and not wanting to wait around meditating while a poor man is in need of life!) really do require meditation - as one considers what one is doing before performing the act. Some meditations can be faster - others slower, and yet others to be performed only secluded, with the purest of intentions and mindset.

No doubt about it, Jewish meditation goes way back and has been practised by the greatest of the great - as well as to all those who wish to cleave to the Divine. It's not a pop thing - except to those who look for the pop only!

This is what the Rebbe had to say regarding meditation and Transcendental Meditation. Below that is a video of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan speaking about meditation as well as his books.

Here is Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan talking about his books and meditation in the Jewish religion:

Friday, 19 June 2015

The North Wind and The Sun - a Lesson in Kindness (Video Included)

The Sun in extreme ultraviolet

By NASA, ESA [Public domain],

If you've heard the story before - listen to it again. If you've never heard it - listen well. It's a beautiful one. The world continues in its usual way with each one "knowing" what's right - and what will make things better. Each one thinking that it is they who are the strongest and who can achieve the most. It's not what life is really all about. The world on land is not like that in the sea - where the larger fish eats the smaller. We are not to learn from those ways of creation. Instead we should learn from those things closest to us here - that we see every day, that teach us the lessons in life we need to internalise every moment.

We look around, and the one thing we receive benefit from every day is the sun. Shining, and giving us light, it is allows those of us who have the privilege of being able to see to view the beauty of life. It's warmth allows us to enjoy living, to enjoy being outdoors. Yet, there are many other "powers" that stand about, each claiming that they are in charge, and it is to them who we must bow down.

The sun knows what's best. It is not an act of violence that repairs the world. It is not an act of power. It is just being there for something or someone, just opening up oneself and allowing the good which one has - that makes all the difference to all who we come into contact with. Kindness will always win. It will always make others happy. Happy with themselves, and happy with the one who has bestowed it upon one. When in doubt - be kind.

Here is that beautiful story of the North Wind and the Sun - by Aesop.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Anisakis and Worms Found in Fish - Check Your Fish Before You Cook It (Video Included)

By Anilocra at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In yesterday's post, we saw the bugs that can be found in couscous, and briefly touched upon what Rabbi Moshe Vaya had to say in his book "Bedikas HaMazon."

In today's post we look at another area that many are unaware of - checking fish for worms! It is fascinating that ultimately when one studies to become a rabbi today, the first and most important issue addressed is food! One has to learn the laws of Kashrut, of forbidden mixtures and the forbidden mixture of meat and milk etc. It is no wonder why this area is chosen as the most basic area to be competent in when becoming a rabbi - since it is the most frequent thing we come in touch with each day! It is vital that our entire diet is not just healthy in the general sense of things - but that we are extra special careful with every food product to make certain there are no bugs and insects in it.

It is true and clear that certain worms that are eaten can lead to great sickness - but this is of course only on the physical side of things. Just as they create problems physically, they create problems spiritually too. Though one may not understand how this happens, it is certainly true - as we clarified in yesterday's post.

Anisakis is one of the best known worms that inhabit certain fish. When one eats raw fish with the live worm - one stands a great chance of becoming severely sick! While the general world will cook fish and not have to worry about the dead worm posing as a problem in terms of sickness any longer - a Jew must be careful of even this. It makes no difference whether the worm is alive or dead - it will still create a problem for the person.

It is vital to check one's fish from the shop before cooking it. Even if it comes with a good Hechsher, it does not mean that is has been perfectly checked necessarily and it is not always the fault of the fish-store selling the fish - after all, it is the fish that has the worms and not the store that puts the worms onto it (or into it!) Nevertheless when one purchases a reliable Hechsher, one does expect that the fish has been cleaned well! As with all food products, no matter how good the cleaning process is - don't forget, it is your body! Be concerned about every food product and the possibility of eating any type of poison or of course bug!

Today we take a look at what these worms can look like. While they are tremendously small to the naked eye - just take a look at what they look like under a magnifying glass! The language of the video is Hebrew, but there's no need to understand everything being said. The video speaks for itself. 

While various Batei Dinim around the world may make one feel complacent that they are taking everything into account so that the customer can feel safe - don't forget, these videos that we have available today (and lacked so many years ago) are here to point out to every one of us just how easily food is infested and how careful we should be to check all food - before we eat it!

דגים חייבים בדיקה! - מגעיל לצפייה מזהירים מראש!צילם: אנונימי הצלם מתבקש לאמר לנו את שמו | דרך אביחי מזרחי
Posted by ‎סרטונים מעניינים‎ on Monday, 1 June 2015

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The Bugs You'll Find in Couscous - and Other Food (Video Included)

Acyrthosiphon lactucae 5083076
               Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University / © Bugwood.org, via Wikimedia Commons

The Torah commands us not to eat the various insects and bugs that fly about and crawl around. Fruits and vegetables are often filled with these insects. It is imperative that one learn all the laws necessary regarding the various types of insects and bugs that infest fruits and vegetables and to know how to clean them effectively. Every fruit and vegetable (as well as grains and other food products) has a different way for cleaning and checking due to the abundance of insects and bugs around. While many use plain soap on everything, it is not always the answer. In fact, many insects have claws that dig into the fruits and vegetables. A general soak in soapy water may not suffice to pull the insect away from the fruit or vegetable and more effort may be needed.

Then there are the fruits such as oranges which contain a thick peel. Many think that simply removing the peel is sufficient without considering the (real) possibility of insects infesting the peel. If the insects and bugs are not removed, they often stick to the hands causing one to end up eating them when one begins to eat the fruit inside! Additionally when cutting the fruit the insect may slip off the peel and enter the fruit. They may be barely noticeable and one ends up eating these bugs. The Torah clearly prohibits this on a number of occasions, causing the one to eat from it to not only transgress a variety of transgressions, but to also end up bringing the bug into one's body. The Torah warns that this has an effect on the way we think, or to put things into perspective, the general saying "You are what you eat," is equally applicable.

The short video below gives an insight into the type of bugs you can find inside couscous. Indeed, while the couscous one eats may very well look clean, the bugs burrow themselves inside certain parts. These bugs are visible at the time one presses on the couscous (or bites into it!) and of course if one eats it, one will be eating not just a dead creature - but a living creature as well!

Rabbi Moshe Vaye - acknowledged world authority on the laws of cleaning food, says in his work "Bedikas HaMazon" that high quality couscous is presumed clean, but that anything less than that requires a good checking (which means literally sifting through every part of the couscous packet as one prepares to cook it.)

Enjoy the video - and may it assist in clarifying just one area in the necessity to check all one's fruits and vegetables - and in fact all the food one eats!

It is told that the reason G-d created the mouth underneath the eyes (and nose) is so that before one places food inside one's mouth, one has the opportunity to both see as well as smell the food. One can see it - in order to make sure there is no forbidden bug or insect (or anything forbidden) on it, and one can smell it to check that it is not off.

Here is a video of Rabbi Moshe Vaya (in Hebrew) sharing some important information about checking food for bugs.


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